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The excess school levy What's at stake

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

On Dec. 16, Harrison County voters will have a decision to make in a special election.

That decision will be whether to approve the renewal of the excess school levy for the next five years, something voters have done since 1955. The excess levy provides additional funding for textbooks, supplies, equipment and programs such as special education, vocational education, band and fine arts, technology and extracurricular activities.

The current excess school levy will expire at the end of June 2001. It has come up for renewal every five years with various changes over the years, said Sharon Haddix, Harrison County Board of Education treasurer.

What is a levy?

A levy is a rate amount that is multiplied by the assessed real and personal property values in order to generate tax dollars, said Cheryl L. Romano, assessor of Harrison County. Real property includes home and land sites, while personal property includes items like vehicles and boats, Romano said.

Currently in the county, there are at least seven levies that are added together to make up a total levy amount which is used to calculate taxes. Some towns have additional municipal levies calculated into their total levy amounts.

The excess school levy is just one part of the total levies, Romano said.

Levy rates are set every year by county commissions, the state Legislature and municipalities to determine the tax dollars generated to the county, board of education and the city, Romano said.

Excess and special levies that will increase the total levy rate are decided upon by voters.

School levies

State residents already pay taxes for a general school levy established by the state Legislature, in which the tax rate is the same for every county, Romano said. That money is used to fund the basics of education, according to Dr. Carl Friebel, superintendent of Harrison County Schools.

But that money doesn't provide the extras that schools need to remain competitive, Friebel said. Upgrading computers, providing computer training for teachers and other technology programs are some of the benefits from the excess levy money.

"We want to provide every opportunity to ensure our kids a future," Friebel said. "If this doesn't pass, it will be a move backwards. We can't afford not to do it. It's about the future of our kids and this area."

A quality education system is one of the first things businesses and potential residents consider before moving into an area, Friebel said.

"People have choices and we want to make our school system attractive to people considering moving here," he said.

If passed, the levy will provide $11,917,148 per year for a five year total of $59,585,740.

If renewed, what will it mean for taxpayers?

If voters decide to renew the excess school levy, they will continue to pay that money along with the state mandated levy amount as they have in the past.

The bottom line for the community is if the levy passes and property values stay the same, there will be no increase in taxes due to the school excess levy, Romano said.

"Taxes could increase if there would be an increase in their property values, but we don't anticipate a lot of changes in property values this year," Romano said.

Property values are reviewed every three years, she said.

The levy would cost a homeowner whose house is assessed at $60,000 about $247 per year, Romano said. It's important to note that assessed value is based on 60 percent of the home's appraised value.

The proposed rates for the excess levy are the same rates that have been in effect for the last five years. The rates are .2066 percent for class one properties, .4132 percent for class two properties and .8264 percent for class three and four properties.

The rates will not increase over the five-year levy period, Haddix said.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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