Tri-City school districts to put levy renewal before voters

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 27, 2013 

Tri-City school districts are deciding how much money they will request from voters in February's special election.

Voters will be asked to renew the districts' maintenance and operations levies on property taxes, which fill the gap left from shortfalls in state and federal allocations.

The Pasco School Board approved its levy request Tuesday. The Richland and Kennewick school boards are expected to make final decisions sometime in November.

-- Pasco would collect $21.7 million in 2015 and $22.2 million in 2016. That's about $3.5 million more than the district's current levy.

-- Richland is most interested in a levy proposal that would take in about $22 million in 2015 and $23 million in 2016, or about $4.3 million more than the current levy.

-- Kennewick is considering going for $23.9 million in 2015 and $24.5 million in 2016, a $3 million revenue increase.

Projections show the rates taxpayers actually pay will vary, because of changing property values. Pasco residents would pay $4.51 per $1,000 in assessed property value, an increase of about 5 cents over the current rate. Richland is expected to hold its rate steady at $3.24, while Kennewick is looking at $3.45, a 3-cent drop.

The levy renewals would go into effect in 2015 and 2016 if approved. The money goes to basic education programs and needs as well as extracurricular programs, such as the arts and athletics, but can't be used for construction.

Board members in all three districts say they want to keep rates as close to current levels as possible. In Kennewick, they are also mindful of an $80 million to $90 million bond that could go before voters in February 2015.

"I like actively reflecting our need and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said Kennewick board member Heather Kintzley.

Some attending a recent Kennewick meeting questioned why the district didn't ask for more levy dollars, as the district will open as many as three new schools in the next several years. They argue low rates now could lead to sticker shock in the future when higher rates are needed.

Some attending a Richland board meeting also said a higher levy should be considered, because the money could be used for programs or to help with deferred maintenance. Only one person questioned the need for the levy.

"I want to fund it to the highest level because I know how valuable the programs my kids participate in are," said one Richland parent.

But most board members seemed set on not seeking more than is needed to accommodate growing enrollment.

"I think one of the reasons we've had a good (levy) passage rate is because we are conservative," said Richland school board member Phyllis Strickler.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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