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Citizen group opposes Bonneville school district’s proposed levy hikes

Education

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Bonneville Joint School District 93 Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme. | File photo, Feb. 2019

AMMON (Idaho Ed News) – Bonneville Joint School District 93 is facing opposition from a local group over a proposed increase to two property tax levies.

“It’s a tremendous amount of money, especially now,” D93 Citizens spokeswoman Halli Stone told Idaho Education News on Monday.

Bonneville will run two ballot measures totaling more than $51 million on March 9: a 10-year, $38 million plant facilities levy and a two-year, $13.6 million supplemental levy.

In 2018, patrons approved a two-year supplemental levy worth $5.8 million a year. The district’s current plant facilities levy is $2.8 million per year.

The proposed plant-facilities increase would help the district maintain new buildings and acreage associated with years of enrollment growth and expansion, Bonneville Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme told EdNews last week. The increased supplemental levy would help address costs tied to opening a new middle school in 2021-22.

A bigger supplemental levy would also help replace emergency-levy funding the district has built into its budget for years, Woolstenhulme said.

Bonneville and other growing Idaho school districts can collect emergency levies to cover costs tied to annual enrollment hikes — without seeking voter approval. For the past decade, the growing district has typically included an emergency levy in its annual budget.

But COVID-19 has temporarily disrupted Bonneville’s growth, delivering a net enrollment loss of 90 students from last school year. For the first time in years, Bonneville doesn’t qualify for an emergency levy.

Woolstenhulme said the district no longer plans to include emergency levies in its budget. Stone questioned the need to shift the money to a supplemental levy when enrollment is down.

“It’s not right,” she told EdNews Monday.

Stone would not say how many people are a part of her group, which has openly opposed the district’s past pursuits of bond issues and an emergency levy. She guessed that “thousands” of locals oppose the levy increases but that many “are afraid to speak out.”

The group has spent months pushing a vote-no campaign on its Facebook page.

Economic “stress, COVID, and uncertainty in every aspect of life” make it “foolish to approve” the measure, Stone said in a statement Monday.

Woolstenhulme told EdNews the district is “grateful” patrons’ have expressed concerns over rising property taxes, but pointed to a recent drop in Bonneville’s local levy rate.

Since 2017, Bonneville has reduced its levy rate by $120 per $100,000 of taxable value — a 21 percent drop.

Now, local property owners pay about $460 a year per $100,000 of taxable value, according to the latest numbers from the State Department of Education.

Despite the recent decline, Bonneville patrons still pay a relatively high rate of local taxes. Currently, just 14 Idaho districts have higher levy rates than Bonneville, according to the SDE.

Bonneville is one of Idaho’s fastest-growing districts. Yet with over 13,000 students, securing local funds for structural upgrades and growth has been a struggle. Due largely to its still-developing tax base, Bonneville generates less local revenue than other districts its size. As a result, local home and business owners have paid a growing price for all the growth in recent years.

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