In asking voters in November 2018 to approve a 1-percent sales tax for county school in 2019, the Vandalia Board of Education pledged to approve either a level or lower tax levy.
It announced last Tuesday it plans to renew that pledge for the third consecutive year.
The school board tentatively approved a new total tax levy rate of 4.3346 percent, which is 1.31 percent lower than the previous extension rate of 4.507.
The tentative tax levy total is $5,849, 824, which is below last year’s tax extension of $5,927,661.
The tentative tax levy presented last week includes the restructuring of bonds, reducing the bond payment from $1.5 million to $1.2 million, Superintendent Dr. Garrison said.
The tentative aggregate tax levy with the bond is $4,636,483, with a tentative rate of 3.4372 percent, compared to the previous aggregate levy of $4,416,407 and aggregate tax extension of 3.4050 percent.
“So, the total levy increase is actually a decrease of 1.31 percent. With this bond, restructuring the aggregate levy – this is where it gets complicated – is a 4.98 percent increasing,” Garrison said.
“Again the tax rate is decreasing and that’s what I want to stress – it would be a consistent tax decrease for three years in a row,” she said.
Garrison said the new aggregate totals are based on a 4 percent property value increase. “That’s been our historical number,” she said.
“A zero percent property tax increase would be about a 15 cents lower rate on your (school) tax bill.
“So, looking at finances holistically, honoring the taxpayer and taking some opportunities, (and) also to do some needed capital improvements, such as roof repairs and HVAC,” Garrison said.
Board member Joe Schaal, head of the board’s finance committee, said, “This is the third year (for a decrease) – that’s what we want to stress.
“Each year we’ve done our due diligence to try to get our tax levy down, so the taxpayers are paying less each year,” Schaal said.
Garrison said, “Our EAV (equalized assessed valuation) actually increased more than we thought, so it was even a bigger tax break this year.”
She said that in not maximizing the district’s levy for all funds, “We are leaving money on the table, but we’re doing that to honor our word to the taxpayers.
“There might be a time when we have to talk about maximizing our levy, but we decided that time is not this year,” Garrison said.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while, because we have bonds that we can lower interest rates on,” Schaal said.
“What the finance committee is proposing is, we will take out just an added a million dollars in new bonds that has to be spent on capital improvements, but with everything else going on, restructuring our payments as well on our bonds will the lower it from the $1.5 million down to $1.2 for the next four years,” he said.
“This is a short-term plan for us at the moment. With a lot of unknowns, we have capital improvements and we don’t know what kind of federal or state funding we’re going to get for schools next year.
“So, we lower our debt service to our bonds in case we need it for general (education) fund,” Schaal said.
With the income from the sales tax and the bond restructuring, he said, the district will have available $5.2 million of needed capital improvement projects.
“I know when I got on here (the school board), I know several of us get on here, we didn’t want to take out any bonds, but this time, with the bonds being so cheap and just taking out an extra $1 million, I think at this point is what’s needed, especially with the capital improvements that we’re needing to do,” Schaal said.
Garrison said that with the bond restructuring, there will be a petition period, to be explained in an upcoming legal notice, that will allow taxpayer feedback.
“I encourage anybody who’s concerned to come sit down with Mr. Schaal, myself and the finance committee, so you can look at the numbers with us as we go through this petition period,” Garrison said.
Board member Kevin Satterthwaite also addressed the district plan for being good stewards of tax money.
“I just want to clarify the fiscal responsibility that you mentioned, (reducing the levy) three years in a row,” Satterthewaite said.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff with capital improvements related things, and it was very easy for us to just try to borrow more and just stay on that trend.
On Garrison talking about maximizing levies, he said, “I’m not sure the general public understands what it is and I think it’s valid that they get repeated again, that we are not out just to max out our capabilities from a taxation standpoint, year in, year out just because we’re allowed to.
“This is a deep dive financially. The view that this board is committed is to try to continually inch by inch make a dent in our financial wellness, and I think that’s worthy of being highlighted,” Satterthwaite said.
“(That’s) not to say that we won’t step back in uncertain times, and take a big swing at something if we need to, whether it be hot spots (for students for remote learning) or whatever.
“We understand the importance of education for our kids. We’re trying to keep that in the forefront of what we’ve done thus far,” Satterthwaite said, but what’s also important is what the board has done from a fiscal responsibility standpoint.