Friday, August 17, 2007

TRUTH (?) in Taxation

I took the opportunity to attend the “Truth in Taxation” for the proposed 49.34% in “School District property tax revenue for the prior year.” I’m sad to have to report that there were two major losers at that meeting - Wasatch County taxpayers and the TRUTH.

To no one’s surprise, the tax increase was passed unanimously by the school board. Many in attendance felt the School Board was as confused as the audience. The hearing began with an archaic, involved and totally irrelevant dissertation on tax, or mil, rates. Nine basic levies, certified rates, maximums, minimums, assessments, etc.; the end result being "It’s not our fault, the assessor made us do it.” People actually wanted to hear about DOLLARS, tax revenues, school expenditures, and, particularly, individual property tax payments!

An overview of the historical budget can be found here. 2004 to 2008 = 55% increase in school expenditures, with a 9% increase in students.

Continuing with the fairy tale presented by the Wave Education Writer (and District publicist) that, according to Superintendent Shoemaker, “the growth of (the) tax bill is reflective of an increase in property value;” school officials carefully tried to place the blame for higher taxes on the County Assessor and the increase in property values. Au contraire, dear school officials, the increase is due to the actions of the School Administration/Board in RAISING THE TAX RATE, which was the very reason for the hearing being held. Strike One on truth and the taxpayer.

Royce van Tassell, of the Utah Taxpayers Association publicly described the presentation as disingenuous. He may have been too kind. Through various machinations, manipulations, sleight of hand and outright chicanery, school officials concluded that “the total debt service (not just the high school) has dropped to $10.95 per hundred thousand dollars” as reported by the Wave Education Writer (does the Wave pay him for his articles?) and reiterated that idea at the meeting. Anyone with a modicum of math ability can look at their tax notice to determine the cost is closer to $100/per $100K; the increase alone from 2007 to 2008 is more than the $10.95. Strike Two against truth and the taxpayer.

Anyone fortunate enough to find a copy of the
debt fund budget can easily see that the (annual repayment) increased by 85% from 2007 to 2008. (See category 31- and also note that the Capital project fund increased by 25%) School officials explained that the "great reduction" resulted from lower rates and the fact they only borrowed $45 of the $60 million. They neglected to mention that the remaining $15 million will be accessed next year or that some of the excess tax revenues received in 2007 (through new growth) may have been used to pay down some debt. Nor did they mention that the Capital Project fund might be used to fund some of the school "frills" or pet projects. They also failed to mention that the first year of payment is apparently interest only (sounds like some current subprime loans)

And the wind up and the pitch . . . To massive adulation by many of the teachers present, we, the truth seekers were informed that the school district was awarding a 3.5% pay increase to the school teachers at a cost of $2.6 million to the district. State legislative officials at the meeting were unclear if the district was taking credit for the pay increase mandated and funded by the state or if the local district had funded an addition increase. However, when asked for an estimate of the total payroll, (10, 20 or 80 million??), school officials were unable to come up with an a ready estimate. The figure, according to the 2007 budget, was $10,669,428. (Page 5, item 131) 3.5 % of that is $373,000 NOT $2.6 million. Stee-rrriiicke THREE, you’re OUT of here. Truth and taxpayers lose!

There was more, of course, mostly equally embarrassing. The final question from the audience, “If you are increasing taxes by 50%, why are teachers only getting 3.5% increase?” While somewhat an apple and orange comparison the answer given by a school board member, ‘well. 39% of the 7 million is going to the salary increase.’ Presumably the aforementioned erroneous $2.6 million (sometimes mentioned as 2.7) was divided by the $7 million for THAT 39% result.

A teacher testified that the school was making vast improvements through vertical and horizontal collaboration and the recent understanding that they needed to focus on what was being learned rather than what was being taught.

(It might be noted that Wasatch scored quite poorly in math in UPASS Considering Albert Einstein's comment
Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach judging from the mathematical prowess exhibited at this meeting, perhaps we've found the reason.)

Recently graduated student Jeremy Heftel may defy that mathematical mold; he exhibited more understanding by his comments than most of the others at the meeting seemed to have.

In the middle of the public discussion, the audience was entertained by a commercial interruption of a Boyer Co. development representative extolling the tax benefits of their proposed development.

Many from the public decried the lack of information provided at the meeting and on the website. Particularly missing was budget information and even addresses or contacts for the Board members. As witnessed by the links above in this blog, it is not difficult to provide the public with budget information. If anyone wants the full 29 pages, it could be easily posted AND at NO COST!!!

Several people attempted to determine the total cost of the new High School, but were told the information was not available yet.

Oh, by the way, in the latter part of the meeting the contracts for the School Superintendent and Business Administrator were approved, no mention of a pay increase.

Wait, there's more, but my cynicism meter has pegged out, so
I conclude on a positive note. The School Board promised to include some Email addresses on the website . . . . but indicated they may not consistently read them.

All is well in Wasatch. . . . .

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