Idaho supplemental tax bill hits all-time record

Idaho’s supplemental levy bill has hit an all-time record this year.

Property taxpayers will shell out $188.8 million in voter-approved supplemental levies in 2016-17 — up from $186.6 million in 2015-16.

The previous high-water mark was $188.1 million in 2013-14, as Idaho schools were digging out from the aftereffects of the Great Recession.

But the rising supplemental levy bill comes after Gov. Butch Otter and the Legislature approved 7.4 percent funding increases for K-12 for the past two successive years.

Supplemental levies are a flashpoint in the ongoing debate over Idaho education funding. Many school leaders have said the levies are no longer supplemental at all — but instead provided essential backfill, particularly during the global downturn. But many of these same administrators say the levies are an unstable funding source, since they run for only one or two years, and require majority support at the polls.

In most cases, the 2016-17 levies aren’t new at all. They are renewals of voter-approved levies that were first passed during the recession, or earlier.

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But a couple of districts upped the ante on their levies. The Nampa School District boosted its annual levy from $3.39 million to $7.78 million; voters approved the larger levy in November 2015. Near the Oregon border, the tiny Cambridge School District will collect $78,837, its first supplemental levy since 2013-14.

Still, there are signs that districts’ reliance on supplemental levies may be easing, if only slightly.

While Idaho’s supplemental tax bill increased by 1.2 percent this year, Idaho’s overall property market value went up by 6 percent, reaching $128.4 billion.

Meanwhile, 93 of Idaho’s 115 districts will have supplemental levies on the books this year, down from 94 districts a year ago.

But sometimes, this reflects a strategic decision by administrators and trustees. The Kuna School District decided to retire a $3.19 million-a-year supplemental levy, since district officials believe they will have to seek a building bond issue. Trustees will meet Dec. 13 to decide whether to put a bond issue proposal on the March ballot.

The State Department of Education released the new statewide numbers in a 2016-17 report on school tax levies.