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Jordan district's split: Salt Lake school officials decry property tax increase

By Kirsten Stewart

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published August 4, 2009 9:20 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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Salt Lake City School District officials have a message for property owners: Don't blame us for that tax increase.

City dwellers are being asked to spend more for schools, about $57 for every $100,000 in home value.

But the tax hike comes by order of the Legislature. And every penny of the $5.7 million generated will go to the newly reconstituted Jordan School District as part of an equalization law to help pay for the Jordan split.

At a news conference Monday, Salt Lake Superintendent McKell Withers called the redistribution "regrettable," noting it couldn't have come at a worse time for cash-strapped schools and families.

"For a legislative body that often talks about the importance of local control, this law takes away local property taxes and local decision making," said Withers. "Property taxes should be the last choice, not the first choice for equalization. And if you're going to do it, do it statewide." He was joined by school board members and Salt Lake City Deputy Mayor David Everitt.

In 2007, Jordan's east-side communities voted to break away from the district and form their own. On July 1, Jordan lost 44 of its 84 schools to the new Canyons district along with its rich property tax base. To remedy that, Utah lawmakers approved a bill meant to equalize property tax funding for schools throughout Salt Lake County.

Efforts last year to repeal the law and pass a statewide equalization plan failed.

Three other school districts are likewise affected; Murray and Granite will pass on the hike to taxpayers.

But in a surprise move on Monday, Canyons officials shelved plans for a tax hike. Instead, the district will absorb the $3.8 million owed Jordan, about 10 percent of its construction budget.

It's a sacrifice, considering an appetite for school upgrades was the driving force behind the Jordan split. But after hearing from irate taxpayers, the board changed course and will weigh a new budget proposal tonight -- one with no new taxes.

"From the beginning, our board has said it wants to be responsive to the public and it is delivering on that promise," said Canyons spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook.

That leaves Jordan on the hook to explain a 10 to 35 percent tax increase expected to win board approval tonight. The increase will net about $25 million on top of the $10 million in equalization money flowing to Jordan.

But Jordan spokeswoman Melinda Colton said where the equalization money can only be spent on construction, most of the new tax money will be spent keeping schools air conditioned and clean.

"We're grateful for the equalization money, but it doesn't help us with our operation and maintenance costs," said Colton. "If the district split hadn't occurred, probably no district would be raising taxes."

kstewart@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">kstewart@sltrib.com

Share the wealth

A new law requires Salt Lake County taxpayers to shell out $10.3 million to help pay for the Jordan School District split. Here's a breakdown of what each district will contribute:

Granite » $725,000

Canyons » $3.8 million

Murray » $109,000

Salt Lake City » $5.7 million

More than 500 patrons are expected to protest at Jordan's truth-in-taxation hearing tonight at 7 p.m. at Riverton High School's auditorium, 12476 S. 2700 West, Riverton. For more information, visit http://www.jordandistrict.org.



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