Idaho Falls trustees vote to take tax commission to court

Updated 8:35 on Sept. 1 with additional context from the tax commission

The State Tax Commission will not certify a $3.3 million plant facilities levy for a new elementary school in the Idaho Falls School District, according to a press release issued by the district Wednesday. Voters approved the levy by a 69.6% margin in May.

According to the district, the commission’s ruling boils down to one question: Can a district have two plant facilities levies on the books at the same time?

The commission is saying no.

“If two plant facilities levies are listed on a school district’s L-2 form, Idaho law requires the Tax Commission to deny one of those levies as illegal,” wrote Renee Eymann, Sr. Public Information Officer for the Tax Commission, to EdNews. And according to the commission, the Idaho Falls decision has not yet been finalized, because the district has not submitted its levy form.

Eymann provided to EdNews an opinion on the matter from Attorney General Raúl Labrador.

Here’s how the law reads: “If the question be approved, the board of trustees may make a levy, not to exceed four-tenths of one percent (.4%) of market value for assessment purposes as such valuation existed on December 31 of the previous year, in each year for which the collection was approved, sufficient to collect the dollar amount approved and may again submit the question at the expiration of the period of such levy, for the dollar amount to be collected during each year, and the number of years which the board may at that time determine.”

According to Labrador’s interpretation of the law, districts cannot float another plant facilities levy before the previous levy expires. One workaround is available, which is to expand an already existing plant facilities levy.

But Idaho Falls disagrees. The district says no statutory limit on the number of levies a district can have, only the amount a school can levy for (.4% of a district’s market value per year). The district’s two voter-approved levies fall well below that threshold. The law also requires all levies to fall under the same funding code, which Idaho Falls says it adheres to.

A sample ballot outlining Idaho Falls’ May levy ask

“The tax commission rule states districts can have only one plant fund, but it does not stipulate that school districts can only have one levy,” the district said in Wednesday’s news release. “This makes sense — the prohibition on multiple funds clearly was designed to prevent districts from going around limitations on levy amounts. D91’s legal counsel believes the law should allow school districts to have an additional plant levy to address changing needs, provided they obtain voter approval and observe levy limitations.”

In a special meeting Wednesday morning, trustees voted to take the issue to court — but the decision could still significantly delay construction of the elementary school.

If the ruling is upheld, the district may have to return to patrons with an alternative bond or levy ask, or find another funding source.

“We are extremely disappointed in the commission’s position and we strongly disagree with its interpretation of the state statues,” board Chair Hillary Radcliffe said. “We plan to file this complaint because, as board members, we feel we need to do everything we can to protect local control, and to provide students with safe, secure learning environments.”

As of now, trustees will move forward with their planning process, and prepare to fight the decision in court.

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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