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Taxes rising in Jordan, Granite
But S.L. schools OK a tax break for the 1999-2000 budget

Residents in the Jordan and Granite school districts will need to reach deeper into their pockets to help pay for their children's education.

Those school boards Tuesday OK'd millions of dollars in tax increases in their budgets for 1999-2000. Meanwhile, the Salt Lake City School District approved a tax break in its budget, thanks to a court ruling keeping airline taxes in the city rather than spreading them throughout the state.-- The Jordan Board of Education approved a $412.4 million tentative budget, which includes a $14.7 million property tax increase. The increase amounts to an extra $48 in annual property tax for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Several teachers backed the tax hike to fund maintenance and operation costs of new schools and middle school assistant principals, among other items. But some disagreed with saving $3.2 million by boosting class sizes an average one student as a blow to morale.

The tax increase is subject to an Aug. 10 truth-in-taxation hearing.

Superintendent Barry Newbold said the district must depend on local funding following $1 billion in state tax cuts and a 2.5 percent increase in the state's basic per-pupil funding formula. Utah ranks last in the nation in per-pupil spending.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, defended the Legislature, saying the weighted pupil unit increase outpaces inflation and that Utah taxpayers spend more personal income on public education than most states. He chalked the district's funding crisis to a 20.5 percent increase in health insurance rates, which actually accounts for $5 million of $27.6 million in funding needs.

The comments sparked the ire of board member Ralph Haws. He blasted Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, for disseminating misleading information in the association's report on the district's proposed tax increase and took exception to his "whistleblower" stance that insinuates the district is involved in wasteful, abusive or fraudulent activity.

The association's report said a business valued at $100,000 would pay an extra $764 in annual property tax, when the tax actually is in the neighborhood of $75. Stephenson said the figure is a typographical error and that he did not intend to imply the district was acting fraudulently.

-- Granite Board of Education members ignored the taxpayers association's call to put a $19 million tax increase on the ballot, saying it's their job to raise taxes and voters can oust them if they don't like the decision.

After a hearing where three residents opposed the tax hike, board members unanimously approved a $375.1 million tentative budget. Board members said they preferred a "pay as you go" approach over going into debt by bonding for much-needed improvements in 12 district schools more than 50 years old.

Some $14 million would fix or replace aging schools over the next 10 years. The district would spend the other $3 million on computer hardware and $2 million on new textbooks.

The tentative budget would raise the tax bill on a $100,000 house to about $380, a yearly increase of $66.

"I feel like I am being taxed to death," Bill Hoggan, who lives near Cottonwood High School, told the board.

Greg Fredde, taxpayers association vice president, said the increase comes at a terrible time when taxes rise because of a recent court decision redistributing airline "fly over" taxes, the motor vehicle taxing formula change and a Salt Lake County property tax increase. He said the tax increase would hurt senior citizens and others on fixed incomes.

West Valley City Council member Margaret Peterson also urged the tax increase be placed on the ballot for a vote. "The tax burden in Utah is greater than any of the Western states," she said.

Board president Lynn Davidson said the board has a constitutional obligation to make such decisions, and to have all school board decisions made through public ballots would be counterproductive.

A truth-in-taxation hearing will be held in early August before the budget is formally adopted.

-- The Salt Lake City School District approved a $190 million budget, $20.6 million more than the current year. Owners of a $100,000 home will pay about $9.50 less than this year because of the court ruling on the airline property tax, said business administrator Gary Harmer.

The district had planned to increase property taxes by about 50 cents next budget year under a $136 million bond approved last month.

Though the district has not received its assessed valuation from the county, the airline tax likely would bring $3.7 million. But the district sent $1.1 million back to the state for uniform school fund equalization purposes and offset all but about $570,000 by lowering tax rates, Harmer said.

"This is a budget that addresses a lot of needs," he said.

The budget includes replacing three elementaries and retrofitting one, and installing air conditioning at seven elementaries. Class sizes will be reduced by hiring teachers under federal funds and state literacy initiatives.

The district per-pupil expenditure is $5,160, a 4 percent increase from last year due to anticipated salary increases of 3.25 percent and a 5 percent increase in insurance cost. By comparison, Jordan will spend $3,914 per pupil.