BATTLE GROUND — After having a discussion with Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick on Mon., Jan. 9, Battle Ground School District officials are saying that they cannot guarantee that approval of maintenance and operations levy that will be on the Feb. 14 Special Election ballot will not raise property taxes.
Battle Ground School District Superintendent Mark Hottowe, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and School Operations MaryBeth Lynn and Communications Manager Rita Sanders all met with Van Nortwick Monday morning to discuss the district’s proposed levy.
“They understood my concerns, and they did say they would back off saying it’s not a tax increase,” Van Nortwick said. “Under our system, if you ask for any increase in dollar amount, you are increasing taxes.”
The four-year, $136.54 million levy will appear on the Feb. 14 Special Election ballot and will replace the district’s current levy, which expires on Dec. 31, 2017. If approved, the levy will collect $31.68 million for the district in 2018; $33.26 million in 2019; $34.93 million in 2020; and $36.67 million in 2021. The $31.68 million amount to be collected in 2018 is a 16.2 percent increase from the $27.25 million that will be collected in 2017.
“One of the key things to remember is that whenever taxing districts do levies, it’s an actual dollar amount they’re asking for, so it’s the dollar amount that needs to focused on,” Van Nortwick said. “Another key point to look at, they always talk about what the cost (property tax amount) is going to be for a house worth $250,000, but if that same house is worth $250,000 in, say, 2018, it’s not going to be the ‘same’ house in 2021 as property values change.”
“The key reason that I got involved is because the superintendent (and the district) were indicating that this is not a tax increase,” Van Nortwick continued. “In fact, you can’t collect (millions) more from the same geographic area as before and not have people pay more in taxes.”
When the district first put out information about the proposed levy, they projected that they would be able to maintain the tax rate of $3.66 per $1,000 in assessed value, which was the district’s rate for 2016, for the duration of the four years of the replacement levy. However, Van Nortwick said it’s not possible for the district to predict that and noted that the tax rate for the current levy for 2017 is actually at $3.32 per $1,000 in assessed value.
“We, of course, didn’t know the tax rate ahead of time,” Van Nortwick said. “We just now know the tax rate for 2017, it’s approximately $3.32. That’s kind of new information. When they (district officials) were going to the school board and saying they were going to keep it level with the $3.66 rate, they weren’t privy to the fact that it was going to drop to $3.32.”
Rita Sanders, communications manager for the school district, said the levy information in the district’s mailer and online shows that the total amount of money that the levy would raise increases each year. She said it also shows that the tax rate for the levy is projected to be flat at the same rate that it is in 2016.
Upcoming Levy Information Nights
• Tue., Jan. 17, 6-7 p.m., at Chief Umtuch Middle School, 700 NW 9th St., Battle Ground
• Tue., Jan. 24, 6-7 p.m., at Laurin Middle School, 13601 NE 97th Ave., Vancouver
• Tue., Jan. 31, 6-7 p.m., at Yacolt Primary School, 406 W. Yacolt Road, Yacolt
“The information also shows that a property assessed at $250,000 is projected to pay $915 per year for this levy,” Sanders said. “We were able to put more information online than in our mailer. We are working on a FAQ to add online. At our information nights, we will also share this information, including that while the rate is projected to stay flat, the proposed levy would generate additional total funds for the district each year.”
“This is the typical information that school districts provide in their mailers and online,” Sanders continued. “Other districts are running a levy on Feb. 14, including Washougal and Camas. Battle Ground’s information is portrayed no differently than surrounding districts. All districts do their best to estimate millage rates, and this is our best estimate.”
Van Nortwick said he is no way telling people if they should or should not vote to approve the levy.
“Their (the district’s) biggest challenge, I told them, if you keep focusing on the tax rate and say it’s not going to change, and then people get a higher bill next year, people are going to start calling the district and asking why it’s higher,” Van Nortwick said. “Then if people are told they’re paying more taxes because the assessor assessed their property higher, then the assessor’s office will start getting calls. It’s more important for them to focus on the dollar amount that they’re bringing in.”
For more information from the district on the proposed levy, visit http://www.battlegroundps.org/levy.