School levy to drop

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 1999

A second piece of the property tax pie was served Wednesday night.

Thursday, December 02, 1999

A second piece of the property tax pie was served Wednesday night.

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It is the best-tasting news heard yet this year.

Austin Independent School District No. 492’s property tax levy will decrease by 15.48 percent in year 2000.

"This is good news for all the taxpayers in the district," said Darwin W. Vikers, CPA for Larson, Allen, Weishar & Company (LAWCO).

The TNT hearing was held Wednesday afternoon at Ellis Middle School in the commons area. Only four citizens attended, a mother and her child and a couple.

According to Vikers, several adjustments to the gross levy are responsible for the double-digit levy decrease. They include a debt service excess of $513,489 and another reduction for education homestead credit of $1.7 million as well as the new educational agricultural credit of $168,088 and the Homestead Agricultural Credit Aid reduction of $23,014.

The debt service excess includes those monies specifically designated to reduce the district’s property tax levy as well as the state legislature-mandated increase in the education homestead credit from 63 to 83 percent.

And, new for year 2000 is the education agriculture credit for the district, which goes from zero to $168,000.

"That’s the driving force behind the decrease in the local share of the property taxes," Vikers said.

So pleased with the information he had to share with the school board members and public was Vikers that the accountant included in his presentation examples of how class rates have changed under the Omnibus Tax Bill.

Also, Vikers offered personal testimony from his own property tax statement received in the mail and two examples of a simplified comparison of the general education levy and the education homestead credit formula.

For a home valued at $75,000, taxes payable for the period 1998, 1999 and 2000 go from $188, to $92 to $45.

For a home valued at $150,000, taxes paying for the same period decline from $563 to $420 to $318.

The purpose of the state-mandated TNT hearing process is to share proposed budget and property tax levy information with units of government and taxpayers.

No citizen had any comment at Wednesday’s TNT hearing.

The school district’s proposed fiscal 2000 revenue budget is $37,254,864 and the proposed fiscal 2000 expenditures budget is $36,704,965.

The district’s total adjusted levy figures are $5,685,550 for 1998 payable in 1999 and $4,805,449 for 1999 payable in year 2000.

That’s a decrease of $880,101 or 15.48 percent and the "good news," Vikers told the school board members.

The total general fund budget shows a $380,224 surplus between revenues and expenditures, but Vikers cautioned the school board members, that isn’t a certainty.

"There are no provisions, of course, in this budget for the school district’s pending settlement with teachers and when that amount is known, that figure will have to be factored in and the $380,000 figure adjusted," he said.

On Tuesday, the school district and Austin Education Association announced a tentative agreement was reached in contract talks that began early this year and required an arbitrator’s services before reaching agreement on a new pact.

School board president, Amy J. Baskin, observed, "Some people may ask ‘Why even levy, when taxes go down?’ and ‘Why do we levy to the max?’"

Vikers had the answer.

"We need to do that to build our fund balances back up and levying to the maximum is allowable by law," he said.

Only a week ago, Vikers gave a grim report to the school board members on the results of a fiscal year-ending audit that showed the district bathed in red ink caused by deficit spending.

Dr. James Hess, superintendent of Austin schools, said the school board’s finance and personnel committee have been meeting to address the issues raised by Vikers.

Hess said it would take time, because the school board wants to hear a "thoughtful recommendation" and that after meetings with the school district’s administrative team, three models for addressing the deficit spending issues will be presented to the school board.

"Then," Hess said, "the board will select the model they are most comfortable with."

The school board will consider the proposed budget and levy figures for adoption, when they meet at 4 p.m. in regular session Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the Ellis Middle School in the commons area.

County TNT hearing today

The Mower County Board of Commissioners will hear the public’s input on the proposed county budget and levy today.

The county’s own TNT hearing begins at 5 p.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room in the lower level of the government center in downtown Austin.

The county’s actual budget for 1999 is $26,324,657 and the proposed year 2000 budget is $32,222,719 or an increase of 22.41 percent.

The county’s current property tax levy is $8,330,763 and the proposed levy for year 2000 is $8,225,921 or a decrease of 1.21 percent.

On Monday, the Austin City Council and Mayor Bonnie Rietz held the required Truth In Taxation hearing to unveil the city’s proposed year 2000 budget of $20,277,794 and an eighth consecutive unchanged proposed year 2000 property tax levy of $2,163,795.