School board approves vote for tax increases

Sami Pathan

House built by Maria Kalaitzandonakes. Photo by Muhammad Al-rawi.
Having already cut 260 jobs in the last four years and facing increasing financial strains due to the opening of a new high school, the Columbia Board of Education voted unanimously Jan. 9 to approve two tax increases for placement on the April 3 ballot.
If approved, the average homeowner in Columbia could pay an extra $148 in property taxes annually.
The first is a 40 cent levy that would provide an additional $8 million in revenue to the district. Homeowners would see an increase in property taxes to $4.48 per hundred dollars of assessed valuation according to the official ballot language from the district.
“The original plan was for an 80 cent levy, then we brought it down to 60 and now it’s 40 cents,” Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher said. “We’ve talked about this for two years and we think a 40 cent increase is necessary to maintain and sustain the programs that we currently have.”
If approved by the users, the board intends to use the extra $8 million to assist in the everyday operations of the district, especially after facing severe cuts from state and federal funding.
“I don’t have any expectations that we will get any sort of help from state legislatures. They have shown a reluctance to look at any revenue enhancement,” Belcher said. “And with about a $500 million shortage of necessary revenue to have the same expenditures as they did this year, we’re all going to be taking some major budget cuts and we know that.”
The board also voted to place a $50 million bond proposal on the April ballot that would raise the debt service levy for the district by 12 cents to 92 cents per hundred dollars of assessed valuation. If passed, it would help the district buy land for new buildings and provide maintenance for existing facilities.
Plans for a new $20 million elementary school and $8 million Early Childhood Learning Center are in the works along with school and technology upgrades like a roof replacement at RBHS and increased Wi-Fi availability.  Board member Jonathan Sessions cites one of the biggest benefits of the bond as allowing the district to replace old and inefficient trailers.
“All of our numbers plan for growth. This is to make sure we’re out of the business of trailers, which if we’re not planning for growth while eliminating trailers, is impossible,” Sessions said. “But this is part of that plan. We will not have trailers in ten years in Columbia, Mo.”
If approved, the funds from the bond won’t become available for use until November of 2014, but the school board will ask for another $50 million in the spring of the same year. Board member Christine King wants to avoid any confusion the public might have about not using the money and asking for more.
“I do want to make sure that we reiterate this 2014 date, because in effect, we’ll be asking for the second $50 million before we even get the first $50 million,” King said. “But we just have to be very open about that and make sure people understand that.”
By Walter Wang