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Granite School Board to hold hearing on proposed 12% property tax hike for teacher pay raises

FILE - Janelle Baker hands out papers while her eighth-grade U.S. history class take a quiz at Valley Junior High in West Valley City on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.
FILE - Janelle Baker hands out papers while her eighth-grade U.S. history class take a quiz at Valley Junior High in West Valley City on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Faced with 300 open positions and challenges of attracting new teachers and retaining veterans, the Granite Board of Education took a bold step this spring.

It raised salaries by a total of 11.6 percent for teachers and administrators, which means starting pay for teachers is now about $41,000 a year.

"This literally was a market-directed decision to compensate teachers based on supply and demand," said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.

The pay raise was made possible, in part, when the Utah Legislature approved a 4 percent increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit earlier this year. The WPU is a building block of education funding that is used primarily for compensation and benefits.

Funding the salary hike also required local effort, an average 11.95 percent increase in property taxes on homes and businesses in the school district's boundaries.

On Tuesday, the Granite Board of Education will conduct a truth-in-taxation hearing to allow members of the public to comment on the proposed property tax increase. The hearing is at 6:15 p.m. in the board meeting room at 2500 S. State.

While the school board received some pushback about the proposed tax increase during its budget hearing, Horsley said the district received far more positive feedback about the decision to substantially increase teacher pay.

"People want to see teachers better compensated," he said.

As the school district prepares for the start of the 2017-18 school year, "we're fully staffed," Horsley said.

Meanwhile, some home and business owners in the Salt Lake City School District could also face a property tax increase on average of about 6 percent, according documents from the Salt Lake County Auditor's Office.

But unlike Granite, the property taxes would be used to address capital needs. Since the 2008 state legislative session, Salt Lake City School District was among a handful of school districts in the county that assessed a Capital Outlay Equalized Levy to assist Jordan School District, which was then undergoing the split that resulted in creation of the Canyons School District. As a consequence, Jordan lost tax base yet retained more than half of the students and was continuing to grow.

Now that the levy has sunsetted, the Salt Lake City Board of Education wants to shift the $7.5 million it captured under the equalization levy to the school district's own school building needs.

"Even with the shift of taxes from the Capital Outlay Equalized Levy to the Capital Local Levy, taxpayers will pay $23.76 less on a $100,000 home than they paid in the prior year. …Taxpayers may pay more property taxes than the prior year if the assessed valuation of their home increases," Janet Roberts, the school district's business administrator wrote in a memo to Superintendent Lexi Cunningham and the school board.

The school board is required to conduct a truth-in-taxation hearing over the proposed tax shift. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board's meeting room at 440 E. 100 South.

"This is 100 percent about capital needs in our district and it is because of the (2016) sunset of this law," Roberts said.

Countywide, assessed valuations of homes and commercial real estate increased by an average of 9.8 percent over the previous year, according to the Salt Lake County Assessor's Office.

"As the demand for homes go up, the prices are going to go up along with that. That results in a higher valuation, which in all likelihood would end up with a higher tax bill," said Salt Lake County Assessor Kevin Jacobs.

CONTRIBUTING: Ladd Egan