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The Uintah School Board has officially approved a tax hike of $1,342,102 for the fiscal year budget that went into effect July 1. The money will go toward major capital improvement projects, classroom equipment and buses.

Just over $1 million will be raised through an increase in the capital outlay levy. That's money county property owners are already used to paying, but through a different levy.The school district will be retiring the bonding debt on Uintah High School this year. Rather than remove the tax levy for bond repayment, the board unanimously voted Wednesday night to shift it to the capital improvements budget to fund remodeling and renovation projects that have been on hold for years because there was no money available in the capital outlay budget.

"For the last two years, we have had nothing for improvements on our buildings," said Grant Drollinger, district superintendent. "We need to remodel Central Elementary, add on to the junior high, put on new roofs. These costs add up to over $600,000."

The tax increase approved Wednesday will raise $303,000 in new money, according to Drollinger. That money will be used to purchase new classroom equipment for teachers, buy two buses, a van and furniture.

"We've gone two years without purchasing a bus and three years without spending on classroom equipment," he stated when recommending the board approve the additional tax levy.

District administrators also see the tax increase as a way to help offset decreasing revenues hitting the district due to huge declines in the value of state assessed property such as oil and gas lands.

"With the state assessed property value declines and the county assessed property increasing in value, we are paying more but actually taking in less than last year; about 4 percent less," explained Ed Oscarson, board vice president. "We were caught by surprise."

Several patrons urged the board not to raise tax levies with rates already climbing due to increased property values. One man told the board his house and farm had increased in value by $50,000 in the past two years.

"That adds up to a $500 tax increase, which is pretty hard to bear."

In many cases, however, patrons attending the Truth-in-Taxation hearing said they didn't mind paying extra taxes if they could be sure the board would use the money to provide a better education for children and increase teacher salaries.

"I'm in favor of the tax increase," Randy Merrill, a Vernal businessman told the board. "The problem we have is one of trust. We don't know if we can trust you. That's the bottom line."

The Utah Taxpayers Association had attacked the district for continuing to tax voters for over a million dollars by shifting the bond repayment levy and for what it called "blatantly deceptive advertising" used to inform taxpayers of the proposed tax hike.

The Uintah School District has the third lowest tax rate in the state. The increase will raise taxes on a $100,000 home by $77 and on a business of comparable worth by $110.