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Lower Property Values Mean Higher Tax Levy in Belton School District

The school tax levy for Belton Missouri is rising by .0573 cents for the 2011-2012 academic year. Photo Credit: 123rf stock photo

Because their property values are going down, owners will be paying slightly more in taxes to support public education in the Belton School District for the 2011-2012 school year. This year’s tax levy will be $5.3840, up from $4.1467 a year ago.

“Even with this increased levy rate, we anticipate collecting $120,375 less tax revenue this year,” according the tax rate hearing agenda.

Belton’s Board of Education approved a levy increase of .0573 cents during a tax hearing in August. In other words, Cass County residents who own real estate and important personal property such as cars and boats will pay slightly more in taxes to fund operating expenses at the schools.

School boards calculate the amount of a tax levy by first determining the value of all property owned in the district. They divide this number by the amount of revenue they will need to operate the schools for the coming year. When there is more property, there are more taxpayers to share the burden. When there is less property, then the tax levy must rise.

This year’s property values in the Belton School District are more than $6.5 million dollars lower than last year’s.

In the agenda released before the tax levy hearing, Belton’s Board of Education also commented on the district’s debt. Of the $5.3940 tax levy, a little more than a dollar of that amount funds debt service.

“The allowable levy for debt services has been rolled back to $1.18 to keep our promise to voters that we would not increase the debt service levy as a result of bond issue approvals,” reads the agenda. This is the same language that appeared during last year’s tax hearing. This year, the district has not actually rolled back the debt portion of the levy. It was $1.18 in 2010, as well.

Belton School District holds about $45 million in bond debt. According to the Missouri state constitution, a district’s debt may not exceed 15 percent of property values. Documents posted on the website of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board in 2009 (the most recent information available) showed Belton’s legal debt limit was a little more than $44 million. However, the district was able to offset this limit with more than a million dollars in cash, leaving them with a “legal debt margin” of $856,564. Given this small margin, it is unlikely that they would be able to issue new bonds that would lead to an increase in the debt service portion of the tax levy.

District expenses and enrollment have risen over the past five years. Expenditures rose from about $51 million in 2006 to more than $70 million in 2010. In the same time period, enrollment rose from about 4,500 to almost 5,000.

Another trend is the rising number of disadvantaged students, predictably at the same time that property values have decreased. There were about 1,500 students eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches in 2006 and more than 2,000 last year.

The $6.5 million decrease in property valuation brings the district down to about 2009 levels.

Belton’s school board held its tax levy hearing the evening of Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Board of Education office.

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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