C-P board proposing rollback rate on property taxes

Public hearing set for Aug. 25; election to decide levy would be in November

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

August 18, 2008 - Como-Pickton's school board is asking voters to support a rollback tax on the ballot in November to maintain current operations and ensure needed repairs are made to aging facilities.

The school board, on a 7-0 vote last week, proposed setting the current tax rate at $1.17 for the 2009 fiscal year.

Because the number is 13 cents above the $1.04 state rollback rate, the levy automatically requires voter approval in November.

"The board would never go out and ask for something unless it would be really beneficia for students," said C-P Superintendent Sandra Billodeau. "They're asking voters for the best for the students."

The $0.13 tax increase would generate $518,170 in additional revenue, but the vast majority of that total would come from the state of Texas.

The state contributes $2.32 for every $1 of local tax money raised, according to Billodeau. Consequently, 70 percent of the added money would come from the state.

Last year, the school received $1.03175 per $100 of property value. That generated in $1,796 in local revenue per student and $6,929 in state revenue for each child. The proposed rate for the coming year would net $2,071 per student in local revenue and $5,413 in state revenue, for a total of $7,484.

"The school board proposed this rate because it is in the best interest of the district, and it is an opportunity to do what is best for students," Billodeau said. "We're going to use a portion of the money to replace, remodel and upgrade current facilities. The main building was built in the 1960s and needs lots of work."

Billodeau also said school officials want to begin making yearly repairs to maintain the district's infrastructure. Some of the needed repairs include replacing roofing and electrical components.

Some of the money would go toward building up the district's reserve fund, or the amount left in the general fund after all bills are paid at the end of the school year. Auditors and state finance officials recommend all Texas public school districts maintain enough in reserve to fund three months of regular operations.

The 2007-2008 fiscal year is expected to close out with about $543,100 left in the reserve fund, which Billodeau said is a "much better situation" than one year ago, but still not enough for a three-month cushion.

"We are looking at [being] significantly better than last year, which can be attributed to everyone on the campuses tightening their belts," she said. We're going to still do what we need to do for students."

Billodeau praise district staff and school board for acting as a team to ensure the needs of students are met. She also noted that, if the tax rate is approved during the November election, school officials intend to look closely at the overall financial picture to see if there's enough revenue that a small portion can be used to increase personnel benefits.

She said the school board's members have indicated it is important to them to try to be competitive with other districts, to both maintain and attract highly qualified teachers to effectively educate students, and to have good staff morale.

The amount requested by the board is strictly for maintenance and operations fees. While most school districts have at least small amounts of debt service fees C-P CISD does not, as no bonds were sought to pay for the recent facilities updates. The district, for example, completed a $4.7 million expansion two years ago that included a new elementary school addition, a new library and doubling the size of the cafeteria.

That's not to say that the district doesn't still owe the bank for those improvements -- the 2006 expansion was paid for through a combination of existing funds and a 20-year note from Alliance Bank. Those fees are being paid out of the maintencance and operations budget.

A public hearing on the proposed tax rate is slated in the high school library for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25 (the first day of classes). If the tax $1.17 tax rate is approved on a final vote by the school board Aug. 25, an election for voter approval to raise the rate above the rollback will be automatically called. The election would be Nov. 4 and conducted along with all other general elections.

The average homeowner in the district would see their tax bill go up almost $150 if the rate receives approval.

Last year, when the tax rate was $1.03175, the average market value of homes was $64,104, but the average taxable value was $49,104, due to homestead exemptions and other factors. That made taxes due on the average residence about $506.63.

This year, the average market value of homes within C-P's district is projected at $71,837. Of that, $56,000 would be taxable. At $1.17, that would put the tax bill for the average residence at $655.20, or $148.57 more than in the previous year.

Not all of that increase comes from the proposed rate -- the total taxable value of property in the district also rose 5.8 percent.

Overall, there was $131,223,611 in total taxable value of all property last year. This year, the total taxable value of all property is $138,803,044.

Billodeau also said that if changes in legislation which provide more assistance for schools aren't forthcoming in the next year, finding funding to maintain all district operations could be even more challenge. She said omething many districts across the state are already trying to find ways to meet basic needs without going into debt. Costs keep increasing, she said, but funding in many areas is the same as in 2006.

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