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Citizens group recommends renewing school levy for four years

There’s going to be a lot of selling going on Monday, Dec. 3.

We’re not talking Christmas sales at local malls, or the QVC network, or “special end-of-the-year deals” at the local used car lot.

We’re talking about Bremerton schools.

A 24-member citizens levy committee has recommended a four-year, $27.5 million maintenance and operations (M&O) levy be put to the voters March 12. The proposal will be presented Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the board room of the School Administration Building, 134 N. Marion Ave. Written comments can also be sent to the superintendent by Dec. 13. The committee has been working on the levy since Oct. 24.

That $27.5 million breaks down to $3.15 per $1,000 of assessed property value on properties in the district for the years 2003 through 2006. The last levy, OK’d by voters on a second try in 1999, was for three years — 2000 through 2002. The amount assessed per $1,000 then was the same — $3.15. The total collected was about $16.7 million.

“The old levy is going to expire in 2002,” said Walt Draper, director of finance and operations. “Voters need to renew it to keep Bremerton schools on track with the improvements they’ve been making.”

Why four years instead of three?

“The state legislature changed the law a few years ago and allowed school districts to ask for a longer levy term. Four years is the maximum,” Draper said. “The longer term saved election costs, allowed the school district to focus on education rather than running levy elections, and provided more stability for property tax payers.”

Other aspects of the levy:

• Officials emphasize this is not in addition to the existing levy, but only renews the old levy.

• Voters will be voting on the dollar amount ($3.15/$1,000). If more businesses and homes are added in the district in the next four years, the total amount collected would be spread over a larger tax base, and individual taxpayers might pay less.

• Renewing the levy will increase collection about 4 percent per year. This is to keep up with inflation, rising utility costs, and cost-of-living pay increases.

• The district has consulted with the county assessor to estimate the value of all businesses and homes by property appreciation and new construction. The district then re-calculates the rate so that the only things causing increases are inflation and property appreciation.

• The state allows districts to ask up to 24 percent of their budget be funded by a levy. The citizens committee picked 13 percent as reasonable for Bremerton property owners.

• Typically, for a home assessed at $100,000, homeowners would pay $315 per year in 2003. By 2006, it would be $354. A $200,000 homeowner would pay $630 in 2003 and $708 by 2006.

• Estimated taxes collected would be $6.46 million in 2003; $6.72 million in 2004; $6.98 million in 2005; and $7.33 million in 2006.

Louis Mitchell, a citizen volunteer on the citizens committee, said the levy is essential — and fair.

“This school district has been an incredible steward of the voters’ money,” he said. “This is the same tax rate approved last time.... In essence we’re just renewing the old levy. And 70 percent of the money from this goes to the students. How can (voters) not pass something like that?”

Mitchell said a 2001 Washington state survey indicated 76 percent of those polled agreed that good schools are essential to business growth in a community.

Draper cited items that might be lost locally: “Twenty-nine teachers were paid for by our current levy. Some 39 classified employees. Field trips, music programs, coaches for physical education programs, arts....”

Joan Dingfield, community services coordinator, said if the levy isn’t passed, “There are going to be some tremendous budget crunches.”

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