Taxpayers seek clarity on budget <br>

One is that the tax burden will shift following a court decision in favor of park concessionaires who said their tax rate should be lower than the county’s commercial rate of 25 percent since they don’t actually own the property they occupy. The ruling, which set their tax rate at 2 percent, has reduced Tusayan’s valuation from $21.9 million to $14.8 million, yet the level of services hasn’t changed.

According to Henry Ortiz, Coconino County Appraisal Manager, the actual dollar impact can’t be calculated until budgets are submitted and approved by the County Board of Supervisors. He did say that based on requests for a minimum of level funding, and excluding impact aid from the state, taxpayers would see an increase in both primary and secondary rates.

“I don’t know the impact,” he said “That’s a question a lot of people have been asking at this point. But that depends on what budgets are submitted by the different departments (like the fire district) and the school district. Those are submitted before the Board of Supervisors and from there I don’t know.”

The 2004 rates will be set sometime in August, with tax bills going out in September, he said.

The 2003 primary tax rate is $5.7907 per $1,000 assessed valuation and the secondary rate is $6.1929 per $1,000 assessed valuation. There are 406 taxpayers in Tusayan, 166 of them classified as commercial, 16 as unoccupied residential and 154 as residential and rental, according to Ortiz.

Superintendent Sheila Breen said that the change in valuation wouldn’t substantially affect the tax rate, at least as far as the school budget is concerned, because the state would provide ongoing equalization assistance to make up most of the difference.

“It won’t make up 100 percent of the difference,” she said. “But the state makes it up permanently since the revenue was permanently lost.”

Taxpayers are also concerned that Xanterra has filed to recoup some $2.5 million in refunds.

Breen said that if Xanterra is successful in its pursuit of a refund, the company will have to look to the county or the state for the money.

“We don’t have it,” she said.

Taxpayers are also concerned about pending legislation to enable the school to expand an existing override and budget 15 percent more than currently allowed. Three years ago, legislation was passed to enable the school to exceed its Revenue Control Limit of $1.7 million by 65 percent through an override if high school enrollment went over 100 and the district no longer qualified for exemption from the RCL under small school provisions in the state law.

The RCL is a spending limit set by the state based on student enrollment and other factors. According to Stone and Youngberg’s Judy Richardson, the consultant who helped the district to draft this legislation and similar legislation a few years ago, the RCL was established to protect taxpayers from unlimited school spending and to bring equity to districts, regardless of whether they are “property-rich” or “property-poor.”

That override went into effect this year and will add 27 cents to the 2004 tax rate.

The new legislation, which would allow the school to seek an override of 85 percent over the RCL, has passed two committees in the State Senate and is set to go forward for a Senate vote, according Richardson. She said that if it passes the Senate, it will then go through House committees before going before the House for a vote. That’s expected before the legislative session ends in late spring.

Another override for 10 percent for maintenance and operation went into effect in 2003, with phase-down slated for the sixth and seventh years.

Also pending is a K-3 override election, set for May 18. The school is seeking a 5 percent increase of the Revenue Control Limit to fund kindergarten-grade three programs, including all-day kindergarten, class size reductions and extra educational help for English Language Learning students. The cost of approving the measure would be $60,000 a year for the first five years, $40,000 in the sixth year and $20,000 in the seventh.

While overrides are up to the voters, taxpayers don’t feel like they have a choice.

“Overrides don’t fail here,” said School Board member Bess Foster. “It means an increase.”

According to Breen, the override won’t affect what taxpayers are already paying, since it will only serve to bring allowable spending in line with the budget upon which last year’s tax rate was based, before RCL limitations took effect.

“This won’t get us any new money,” she said. “It just gives us the ability to spend what we’re already able to get.”

Residents also feel that they can’t trust the county not to make errors in calculating and collecting property taxes. Taxpayers are still uncomfortable with the fact that the county mistakenly continued to collect the full rate on a levy that was supposed to be reduced. That money has since been turned over to the school but residents still felt communication was lacking.

“We only knew recently what happened to the $160,000,” said Vail. “They never came back to us and told us.”

While Tusayan’s taxpayers emphasize that they don’t begrudge the school a level of support, “It can’t all be on Tusayan’s back.” said Vail. “I feel like there’s a moral obligation among NPS and Xanterra. Half of the parents of children at the school work for them. We want to provide for the school but we’re concerned about where we’ll come up with the funding. We need a solution soon.”

The School Board’s next budget work session, which is an open meeting, will be held on Thursday, March 18 at 6 p.m. in the school library.

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