The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Letter: What is going on with school spending?

  • What does the Leavenworth School District (USD 453) want? They need to increase the mill levy.
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  • To the editor:
    What does the Leavenworth School District (USD 453) want? They need to increase the mill levy. One might read that as increase the property tax. They would like to spend $68.6 million for the coming fiscal year. The $68.6 million expenditure needs to include a 3-mill levy increase. That is supposedly "$51.75 a year" for the homeowner with a home appraised at $150,000. Apparently, the Director of Facilities needs $9.2 million for projects planned in the next five years. By the way, someone needs $350,000 to upgrade technology. It appears that the facilities projects and the upgrade of technology have been deferred in past budgets. Apparently, the $57.8 million bond generated in 2008 was insufficient.
    A few observations about the geography of the Leavenworth school district are:
    a. Leavenworth's population in 2010 census was 35,251
    b. 26 percent of that census population was under 18 years of age
    c. 10 percent of that census population was 65 years of age or older
    d. The homeownership rate for the 13,670 housing units was 50.3 percent
    e. The per capita income in 2011 – latest figures – was $24,100
    f. The median household income is $51,587 per year
    g. From 1992 until present, the average number of students in USD 453 has been 4,232 students
    h. Since 2008 and the bond issue, the average number of students in USD 453 has been 3,945
    A limited analysis of the geography suggests that those 18 years of age and under will probably not be subject to property taxes unless they own a vehicle or rent a residence. The 50.3 percent that own property will be affected directly by property taxes.
    The remainder of the population that rents will be directly affected by an increased rent payment to cover the landlord's cost for property taxes.
    The 10 percent of the population 65 years of age or older on limited income will be directly affected, possibly adversely, whether they own or rent.
    The school district will have decreased students to serve but more dollars to spend. A small business will not be directly affected.
    The proposed mill levy increase standard of "$51.75" a year for a $150,000 house will mean that the median household income of $51,587 will be reduced by that amount.
    By the way, the median household income is probably generated by the 2.5 persons living in that household holding a job or multiple jobs.
    Unless that household receives a pay increase, they will lose money in a period of unemployment and underemployment.
    On Dec. 14, 2009, the school district placed a public notice in the Leavenworth Times newspaper indicating that "the USD 453 passed a resolution to authorize an annual tax levy for 5 years in an amount not to exceed 8 mills on tangible property in the school district…unless a petition by up to 10 percent of qualified electors of the school district is filed within 40 days after the last publication… If a petition is filed, the county election officer shall submit the question as to whether the tax levy shall be authorized to the electors…"
    Page 2 of 2 - The school district obtained without an elector approval the prerogative to raise the mill levy. An examination of the USD mill rate levy by budgeted funds shows that the total actual levy for 2007-2008 was 50.77; 2008-2009 was 50.6; and, 2009-2010 was 63.1. When total expenditures are reviewed, the operations and maintenance spending went from 9 percent to 8 percent for 2007-2010. During that same period, spending from the capital improvements funds went from under 1 percent to 4 percent of the total expenditures.
    I am perplexed as to what is happening with school spending. I know that incomes have remained steady or declined depending on whether one is employed or not. Inflation has been the lowest in history. Home appraised values have declined. Since 2007, the assessed value of housing has remained relatively stationary.
    As a Leavenworth county resident living within the city limits, there are several governing bodies – Leavenworth County, Leavenworth City, the State of Kansas, USD 453 – that affect a citizen's annual property taxes. Each operates independently of the other in their budget development and tax mill assignment. Therefore, a $51.75 a year for the USD 453 may appear small in the school board's perception of life but may really loom large in light of the remaining taxing body's budget.
    Given all of the information above, I have developed a sense of urgency to examine my circumstance regarding an increased tax burden; especially, from the retiree limited-income aspect. I discovered that for the period 1997-2007, my home increased in appraised and assessed value.
    From 2008 until today it has declined about 3 percent of appraised and assessed value.
    However, the absolute tax dollars paid has continued to rise by some 112 percent from 1997-2012.
    Of that absolute dollar amount, the USD 453 has increased its share by some 67 percent. In the last four years, the USD 453 has collected 41 percent of my total tax dollars paid at the county court house clerk's office.
    My fear is that the school district is going to bankrupt my ability to reside in my home.
    Should they continue as they are at the moment, the city may eventually have a significant loss of taxpaying residents. School districts along with municipal governments in many East Coast communities exhausted taxpayer resources and the ultimate outcome was a dead inner city.
    Education is vital to our children's success. Fire and police service are vital to the community. Other services are also vital to the population. Prudent management is needed by all. The electorate needs to read, ask questions, and seek answers.
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