By SHERALYN BOLE
Alpine residents are upset after the Alpine School District Board of Education unanimously approved a $3.1 million dollar increase in property taxes for the district last Tuesday.
The board made the decision for the 46,000-student district during a truth-in-taxation hearing, a meeting required by the state whenever local taxing agencies raise taxes.
The tax hike will increase taxes about $30.91 per year for houses valued at $100,000.
More than 50 Alpine residents attended the meeting in American Fork, and almost half of them addressed the board. Most of the residents who spoke said they opposed the increase. They said the additional taxes would be a burden for property owners, especially for those with fixed incomes.
But, board members said the additional taxes are needed to keep class sizes down during a period of rapid growth. The state does not provide money to keep the student-teacher ratio low in fast-growing districts. Alpine is one of the fastest growing and least funded districts in the nation, and the money is necessary for the children to receive a quality education, said Andrea Forsyth, a board member.
“This tax increase affects all of us, but when you go into the schools and put faces on the 46,000 students who deserve a quality education, you realize that the need is real,” she said.
Schools are funded based on their October head count, and no additional money comes during the year, despite continuing growth, Forsyth said.
James Hansen, budget director for the district, said about 12 percent of school funding comes from property taxes. The rest comes mainly from state income taxes.
The district could not balance the budget without an increase in taxes, said Michael Robinson, public information officer for the Alpine School District.
The tax hike is part of a three-year $6.9 million leeway that voters approved last summer. This means that taxes will go up again next year, Robinson said.
The increase was especially heavy this year because the board also increased two local tax levies, the 10 percent basic levy and the recreation levy, he said. If everything goes as planned, the increase will be much lighter next year, Robinson said.
Steven Baugh, district superintendent, said the board members understand the residents’ concerns. Board members are also affected by the taxes as residents, he said.
“Personally, I wish that there were a more equitable way to finance public education than through property tax increases, but it’s the only way we have at present to maintain the revenues needed to educate our children,” Baugh said.