Districts impose $9.2 million in emergency levies

(UPDATED, 1:45 p.m. Sept. 14, to correct Middleton’s levy amount.)

Seven school districts will collect $9.2 million in new property taxes for 2018-19, in an attempt to cover the cost of growth.

The emergency levies are designed to cover increases in student numbers. Unlike other school levies, emergency levies do not require voter approval; trustees can impose the levies on their own.

And for several districts dealing with ongoing growth issues, the levies have become something of a perennial tax. Five districts on this year’­s list ­— West Ada, Bonneville, Twin Falls, Jefferson County, and Kimberly — have collected emergency levies every year since at least 2014-15.

Here’s the breakdown of this year’s emergency levies:

District Amount
West Ada $3,220,000
Twin Falls $2,504,556
Bonneville $1,822,686
Jefferson County $727,728
Nampa $685,184
Middleton $150,000
Kimberly $93,245

 

Where the money goes

For West Ada, the new school year brings with it another influx of new students. Student numbers are up by nearly 600 students this year, which could push district enrollment above the 39,000 mark. West Ada will use $2 million from the levy for new textbooks. The rest will cover salaries for new employees.

In Twin Falls, money from the levy will likely go into staffing: hiring teachers, or hiring paraprofessionals to help out in crowded classrooms. Crowding has become the norm in Twin Falls. For the first three days of the new school year, an average of 9,381 students attended classes, an increase of 522 students from the previous year.

Nampa will use its money for “classroom support and supplies,” district spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said. Support might — or might not — equate to hiring teachers or paraprofessionals. “We are working with buildings that are at or near capacity to determine how that will look at each school,” Tuck said.

How the process works

Nampa can collect an emergency levy this year, even though the state’s third-largest school district is expecting an enrollment decrease. That’s because the emergency levy is not based on enrollment numbers; instead, it hinges on student attendance in the first few days of the new school year. Nampa’s attendance was up by 128 students from the previous year.

In spite of the emergency levy, Nampa officials say the district’s overall property tax rate will decrease by 6.7 percent — a reflection of Nampa’s growing tax base, and the district’s efforts to refinance previous debts.

So this week, Nampa trustees cast two votes. First, trustees voted unanimously to reduce the tax rate. Then trustees approved the emergency levy on a 4-1 vote, with board Chairwoman Allison Westfall voting no.

Bonneville trustees didn’t even take a vote. Instead, they assumed that they would qualify for another emergency levy — anticipating another year of growth — and folded the levy money into the 2018-19 budget.

Last week, Bonneville sent emergency levy paperwork to county officials, as the law requires. The district said its average daily attendance is up by 361 students from the previous year.

District officials maintain that they can impose an emergency levy without a formal vote — and the district’s decision does not appear in any board agenda or meeting minutes. State law requires a district to “certify its need” for an emergency levy. The law does not explicitly require a board vote, but it does require districts to “advertise its intent” to seek an emergency levy through legal notices. Those notices will run in the Idaho Falls Post Register later in September, months after trustees built the $1.8 million levy into the budget.

Emergency levies, by the numbers

This year’s emergency levy bill appears to represent a decrease from 2017-18. Last year, districts wound up collecting slightly more than $11 million in emergency levies.

Over the past decade, districts have collected nearly $79.7 million in emergency levies.

Over that same time span, the state’s largest school district has collected the largest amount of emergency levies — and it isn’t even close. West Ada has collected nearly $26 million in emergency levies. Bonneville has collected more than $13 million and Twin Falls has collected nearly $12 million.

Emergency levies aren’t nearly as widespread — or as costly — as voter-approved supplemental levies. Last school year, 93 of Idaho’s 115 school districts collected supplemental levies, and the bill reached a record sum of nearly $195 million.

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