Hood River County schools forge ahead with levy plans

Superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady presents county with list of programs that could be funded with extra capitol

The Hood River County Commission has given the nod for school officials to finalize plans for a local option levy to fund sports and extracurricular activities.

Last week Pat Evenson-Brady presented the county board with a listing of programs that could be funded with the extra capital. She is asking the county to partner with the school by sponsoring a three-year levy for about $2.3 million this spring. The $1.94 increase per $1,000 of assessed property value would pay for options that ranged from athletics to field trips.

“The goal of administrators is to provide sufficient activities so that 90 percent of students can find a good choice of clubs or sports that they can be involved in,” said Evenson-Brady.

She first broached the subject with the county in September, requesting that the government entity run the levy. Evenson-Brady outlined that the permanent property tax collection limit for the county was much higher than that allowed for school levies. She said under Measure 5, the school is already over its allowable $5 per $1,000 of assessed value on county properties, which is shared among all edcuational facilities. By involving the county, the school district could tap into an allowable $10 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. County officials estimate there is about $3.50 left in that cap. However, at the Nov. 3 meeting they expressed some concern about the willingness of citizens to shoulder an additional tax burden during tough economic times.

“Conceptually I think it’s a wonderful idea but the numbers are very high at almost $2 per $1,000 and that is very scary. It’s a big increase,” said Commissioner Robert Hastings.

His comments were based, in part, on the pending referendum that is expected to send an $800 million tax package approved by the Legislature — which includes an income tax surcharge — to the voters on Feb. 3. He had also reviewed tax information compiled by two department heads, Sandra Berry of Records and Assessments and Sandra Borowy of Budget and Finance. Their summary of 2003-04 property tax distributions showed that the school district received 56.4 percent of $15,825,180 in receipts, with $5,736,268 turned over for operations and an additional $2,647,011 for a $9 million construction bond payment. The county government spends about 11 percent of the remaining balance, or $1,723,584, for provision of services. The $3 million library bond payment constitutes about two percent of the total, or about $293,380. The remainder of the collected taxes are divided between port, fire, and other public service agencies.

Evenson-Brady said the Local Option Committee (LOC) had recommended that the levy not run if the state tax plan is approved. However, she said the school district was still looking at a possible hole of more than $400,000 in its 2004-05 budget, which would follow on the heels of a $2.4 million loss during the past two years. If voters shoot down the tax increase in February, Evenson-Brady said the school will have to absorb an additional $1.4 million loss. She anticipates that officials will then have to take a hard look at raising class sizes for the 3,947 students, cutting school days or reducing programs.

She believes the ideal solution for the school’s budget woes would be for February’s passage of the tax plan and an approval of the local option levy. However, Evenson-Brady acknowledges that could be a hard sell to voters.

At its Nov. 3 meeting, the county board indicated its willingness to work with the LOC to iron out issues related to the levy proposal, including how the money will be channelled into select programs.

Currently serving on the LOC are: Don Nunamaker, Paul Blackburn, Dorris Greenough, Butch Gehrig, Glenn Taylor, Jan Harmon, Ken Wittenberg, Bob Danko, Bev Annala, JoAnn von Lubken, Mike Schend, Paige Rouse, Chuck Johnisee, Steve Gates, Larry Bowe, Guadalupe Vazquez and Sarah Raab.

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