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Arlington School Board to consider increasing levy collection

ARLINGTON — Property taxes could soon be on the rise in Arlington to help combat dwindling school district coffers.

The Arlington School Board is voting next month on whether it should take advantage of a new state law that allows districts to raise their levy lids by up to 4 percentage points.

Currently, up to 24 percent of the Arlington School District's basic education allocation can come from levies, which must be approved by voters with a 50 percent plus one vote.

In March, the state Legislature passed a measure that would allow Washington school districts to lift the levy lid up to 28 percent during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.

Districts could collect those higher levy amounts through 2017.

The Arlington School Board does not need voter approval for the levy increase because the district has excess capacity in its current levy. That means that even if the Board raises its levy, the amount collected would still be less than what voters originally approved in 2008.

Should the Board decide to increase its levy lid to 28 percent — the maximum allowed by state law — estimates show that the district would collect more than $800,000 in additional revenue during the 2010-11 school year.

Levy collection amounts vary based on a taxpayer's assessed property value. Residents who live within the Arlington School District currently pay $2.57 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or about $640 per year, for a $250,000 home.

Should the Board keep its levy at 24 percent, it would actually collect less tax dollars due to diminishing property values, said Deb Borgens, executive director of financial services for the district.

Property owners will pay $2.31 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $575 per year for a $250,000 home, should the Board maintain its current levy collection rate in 2011.

If the Board does increase its levy, those additional tax dollars will go toward the district's fund balance. Fund balances can be used to pay for payroll in an emergency and can affect a district's bond rating.

The Arlington School District's fund balance has shrunk the past few years as enrollment has decreased. Board policy states that the district should try to have a 5 percent fund balance.

But during a July 26 special budget session, School Board members expressed concern over raising taxes in the current economic climate.

Board Vice President Kay Duskin said she didn't think it was fair that the state is asking school district voters to pay for a larger share of public education dollars.

"Why should we go to the voters to pay for what the state isn't funding?" she said.

Board President Jeff Huleatt said that taxpayers will see the bottom line, adding that he was surprised that many other local school districts are planning on raising their levy lids.

According to Arlington School District officials, the Edmonds, Everett, Granite Falls, Index, Marysville, Mukilteo, Snohomish and Stanwood-Camano Island school districts are planning to increase levy lids to between 24.9 percent to 28 percent.

Many of those districts do not have voter-approved levy capacity, so district boards would have to approve levy increases with their voters.

The Board will formally adopt its 2010-11 budget on Aug. 9.

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