Monday Oct 18 2010
School district ‘hopeful’ about parcel tax
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
Some language in measure not clear, resident says
As Nov. 2 draws near, those who support and oppose Measure L are speaking out about the proposed parcel tax. Measure L would impose an annual $59 parcel tax on properties within the Auburn Union School District. The measure would sunset in five years, and is expected to bring in $4 million for the elementary and middle schools within the district. Measure L is proposed to “preserve reading, math, and science instruction, maintain hands-on science programs, classes and labs, maintain reading and language programs for all students and attract and retain qualified teachers” in the Auburn Union School District, according to election documents. Seniors and those with disabilities are exempt from the measure, but exemption applications must be filed with the district if the measure passes. Residents who own more than one parcel will only be taxed for one. The measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass on Election Day. Michele Schuetz, superintendent of the Auburn Union School District, said she wants the community to be aware that the money raised through the tax can’t be used for administrator salaries or district operations, but could help bring more teachers on board. “Reading, math and science (programs) will (be funded) out of that,” Schuetz said Monday. “People should be assured that we can’t use it to backfill other resources. Part of it is to lower class sizes. It could be used to hire more teachers (to achieve that).” Schuetz said she and any other district employee can’t campaign for the measure during work hours, and campaign funding can’t come from the district. “We are phone banking four nights a week,” she said. “We have done mailers. We are trying to get another mailer out. We are doing fundraising for that.” The grassroots group Citizens for a Stronger Auburn has raised about $20,000 for the campaign, and hopes to raise another $5,000. This money has paid for mailers, fliers passed out at events, printing and yard signs, according to Schuetz. Taxpayer advocate Dan Sokol, who is currently running for Auburn City Council, said he thinks the measure is like a crutch, and the entire education system needs to be reconstructed to fix existing financial problems. “I think we have got to revamp the entire education system and bring it back to the classroom and to the district,” Sokol said. Schuetz said the district doesn’t control how the state’s educational system is constructed. “Whether or not the educational system needs to be revamped, it can’t be done by the district,” Schuetz said. “That would have to be done at the legislative and state level.” Sokol said he also opposes the bill because a parcel tax hits those who can’t pay for it, and he finds the exemptions unfair. “It is a parcel tax, and parcel tax is inequitable, it’s unfair,” he said. “Why seniors should get any added benefits just because they are seniors – to me that is wrong.” Auburn resident Ken Newman, who is a senior, said he thinks the measure’s language is not clear enough. He thinks it leads the reader to believe that exemptions are automatic, when in fact the forms have to be requested from the district. Newman said he doesn’t think most people who can take advantage of these exemptions would understand that. “That is kind of what I’m warning people about,” Newman said. “It’s better that they are offering that, but us old people, we throw half of (those fliers) away. So, if people don’t (know to) fill the forms out, they won’t get the exemption.” Schuetz said the school board would appoint a seven-person oversight committee to make sure the money is being used properly if the measure does pass. Regular audits would also take place. The district plans to advertise the committee positions this week. It is hoping to have a representative from the business community, a senior, a taxpayers association member, a district employee, a parent and two community at-large members sit on the committee. “The idea is to have the oversight committee well represented (by people) throughout the community,” she said. Bill Radakovitz, who is the current president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, but was not speaking on behalf of the chamber, said he thinks the cost of the tax is minimal and is going to a good cause. “The 16 cents a day, which is what it boils down to, is not a large amount of money, and it sunsets after five years,” Radakovitz said. “It is my understanding that they are in dire need of money. For 16 cents a day I think it’s a good investment.” Rob Haswell, chairman of Citizens for a Stronger Auburn Yes on L, said it is currently against the law for the state to take any of the money raised through the tax, but if the state should ever change the law and take a portion of the money, the district would repeal that amount of money from the tax. “It is important for people to know this isn’t going on around the state,” Haswell said. “The state isn’t going around raiding people. State law prohibits it. However, should they (make a change in the law) then we have also taken that ‘what if’ clause and dealt with it as well.” Auburn resident Tracy Wingett said any kind of tax to raise this money would be a bad idea, because she thinks the state would always try to take it. “If you want (money), I will give it to you, but not in this direction, not on my property taxes,” Wingett said. Schuetz said the district is feeling good about the measure at this stage of the campaign. “We want to feel very hopeful about the measure,” she said. “We feel that it is very well written. We tried to put in as many protections for the taxpayers as we could.” Reach Bridget Jones at email@example.com ----------------------------------------------------- Measure L For more information on Measure L visit strongerauburn.com.