For an issue that sparked public debate over the past three years, the Cape Girardeau School Board's decision Monday to raise property taxes seemed almost routine.
There were no opposing comments from district residents, as in past years, when the board considered the tax increase of 17 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
With little discussion, the board voted in favor of raising the levy from the current $3.99 to $4.16, a move that will generate around $748,000 annually in additional property tax revenue for the district.
At the same time, officials warned that the levy increase, even on top of the $1.2 million in budget cuts made this year, is not a complete solution to the district's financial problems."I see where we need the increase, but I think it's misleading to patrons that this will fix everything," said board member Sharon Mueller. "It's a fix for today, but not for the future."
The revenue from the increase is targeted at four areas in the district's budget: salaries, textbook purchases, technology updates and building reserve fund balances.
Around $350,000 of the new revenue is earmarked to fund the district's salary schedule, but officials say that amount of money is not enough to keep funding the schedule year after year because of employee changes.
As employees gain in experience and education, and therefore move up the salary schedule, the schedule becomes more costly. Cape Girardeau superintendent Mark Bowles said that, ideally, annual growth in assessed valuation will take care of increased costs such as the salary schedule so that the district will not have to repeat the current salary freeze.
However, the district has not seen the level of growth expected in assessed valuation over the past three years, thus prompting the levy increase.
Upping the levy without a public vote was possible through a state law that allows districts to adjust tax rates in response to changes in local assessed valuations. For the past decade, Cape Girardeau has voluntarily reduced the levy to below the maximum amount allowed under state law.
"This is money we could have had that we allowed taxpayers to hold," said board member Laura Sparkman. "Yes, it is an increase, but it's something the public probably should have had 10 years ago."
The increase will mean an estimated $32 more a year in property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 house, or around $2.69 more per month. Property owners won't see until the increase until next year.
Board member Robert Brown said taxpayers should remember that the district can choose to lower the levy once finances are more stable.
"This is not necessarily a done deal for life," said Brown. "If we have some major windfall, the district could opt, in theory, to roll back again."
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