ARGYLE — Residents questioned the school district on how an increase in taxes could affect them in one of two public meetings being held by the district to discuss a tax ratification election scheduled for next month.
District officials gave a 30-minute presentation that touched on the tax rate and what it funds, previous district tax rates and how a tax rate increase could impact the 2012-13 budget.
Voters will decide Sept. 15 on a proposed increase from $1.04005 to $1.10005 per $100 valuation for the maintenance and operations tax rate, and a reduction from 42 cents per $100 valuation to 38 cents in the interest and sinking rate, which funds bonded debt obligations.
The net change in the tax rate reflects a 2 cent increase over the current $1.46005 rate.
Because the proposed maintenance tax rate is greater than $1.04, the state requires the district to call a tax ratification election.
District officials say the average home value is $357,264, and voter approval of an increased tax rate would increase taxes on that average home by more than $71 annually. District officials said there’s no impact to the property tax ceiling for individuals with an over-65 homestead exemption.
“It’s asking a lot of money,” said Martha Mason, an Argyle resident of 35 years.
The retired woman said she’s on a fixed income and qualifies for the exemption, but she worries about the impact that could be brought on by increased property home values.
“That doesn’t take in [account] your valuation, and when you live in a wealthy school district, your valuation goes up,” Mason said.
Kevin Sanders, an Argyle resident of 10 years, said he supports the tax increase.
“I see it as an investment election,” he said during the meeting. “I would encourage everyone to get out and support this because I think this is extremely important to our district.”
Board member Spencer Jefferies said he agreed with Sanders.
“It’s an investment into the kids and the schools,” he said. “The better your schools are, the better ... property values are going to be in our area.”
In answer to residents’ questions, Superintendent Telena Wright said the district’s number of administrators was lower than the state average and that the district had saved money by buying its own buses instead of contracting for the service.
The intent for Thursday’s public meeting was to explain to the public the reasons the board is bringing forward a tax ratification election, said board President Kevin Faciane. He said he felt the first of two public meetings went well and that the public had some “good questions.”
“This is a taxpayer decision, and our job here tonight was to inform the taxpayer,” Faciane said Thursday.
According to district officials, the total tax rate has decreased by 45.95 cents the last six years. The rate for the 2005-06 school year totaled $1.91950 per $100 valuation.
In 2006, the state Legislature compressed school tax rates. By the 2007-08 school year, maintenance and operations tax rates were reduced to $1 for most districts. The previous cap prior to rates being compressed in 2006 was $1.50.
During the 82nd Texas legislative session last year, funding to public education was cut by $5.5 billion, with $1.5 billion being cut from a fund for grant programs, including full-day prekindergarten, after-school tutoring and dropout prevention.
That reduction equated to an estimated $900,000 reduction in state funding for the 2011-12 year and an additional cut estimated at $460,000 for the upcoming school year for the Argyle school district, according to school officials.
Between the 2010-11 school year and 2011-12, enrollment in Argyle decreased from 1,824 students to 1,808 students, attributing to a loss in funding and an increase in recapture payments Argyle pays to the state, according to district officials.
Argyle, as a property-wealthy district, returns money to the state in the form of recapture payments, also known to some as Robin Hood.
District officials shared at Thursday’s meeting that in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal years, Argyle returned no recapture funds to the state but for the current year, which ends Aug. 31, the district is budgeted to pay more than $632,000 in recapture payments.
Without revenue generated from the limited open enrollment program and voter approval of the tax ratification election, recapture payment estimates for the 2012-13 could total more than $999,000, while recapture payments with the inclusion of revenue generated from limited open enrollment and the approval of the tax rate increase are estimated to total nearly $548,000.
Liz Stewart, the district’s chief financial officer, said that based on current projections, without approval of the tax ratification election, the district faces a budget deficit of $516,486 for the 2012-13 year. Based on projections for the 2013-14 year, without approval of the tax ratification election, program and staffing cuts could be required.
“If the TRE does not pass, then we will do an amendment and fall into a [budget deficit],” Stewart said.
The shortfall over the next two school years, if the tax ratification does not pass, totals more than a combined $1 million, she said. Stewart said setting the maintenance and operations rate at $1.10 will generate the revenue for fully funding the 2012-13 budget after district reductions are made and additional revenue is generated from the limited open enrollment program.
The district will have its final public meeting on the tax ratification at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the lecture hall at Argyle High School, 191 S. U.S. Highway 377.
Early voting for the election will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 29-31; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 4-7 and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 10-11. Voters can cast ballots on election day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Voting will take place at the Argyle school district Administration Building, 800 Eagle Drive.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.