Wasatch County School Board approves tax revenue increase
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Wasatch County School Board approves tax revenue increase

Dec 10, 2023

Just before the board’s meeting Tuesday, it reviewed the budget one more time in a study session to see if any cuts could be made to the proposed $14 million revenue increase.

The conversation mostly focused on the additional $6.3 million per year pegged for the school’s capital fund, which is used to pay for future building needs. Jason Watt, the district’s student services director, prepared a spreadsheet showing how that income would be applied toward three new school buildings the district says it will need in the next 10 years — the first of which would be a rebuilt Midway Elementary.

According to Watt’s estimate, if construction began in 2027, the district would still need to raise an additional $24 million to pay for the project, either by general obligation bonds or lease revenue bonds.

Board member Marianne B. Allen said learning that was a "gut punch." She proposed trimming the $6.3 million to $5.3 million. Watt said that would raise the cost of a bond to $29 million.

"No matter what, we have to go to the voters in ‘27," she said. "And right now our voters are saying, 'We're struggling, can you give a little?' So to me, it's like, if we can give a little, and we have to go to them anyway, let's show some level of trust and like, 'Hey, we hear you.'"

Board president Tom Hansen disagreed. He said preparing for future building needs through capital reserves is a more proactive and responsible strategy than seeking money through bonds. He cited the district’s experience of trying to finance the new high school currently under construction as an example.

"We saw that in 2019. No one could look around the corner and say, 'Hey, listen, we'll save you $100 million if you do it now versus wait,'" he said. "We waited, costs went up, interest rates went up. We're building one high school for the price of what it would cost us for a high school and an elementary school four years later."

Hansen said he would be more willing to trim costs in the general fund, where the other $7.7 million of new revenue would go. He floated the idea of delaying hiring a mental health specialist, and Allen asked about the district’s current pace of replacing buses in its fleet. Keith Johansen, the district’s business administrator, said it had already slowed.

"We've bought two buses per year. The last few years we've only bought one and we wanted to go two again," he said. "If you're only buying one a year, we’re running some buses that are quite old at that point."

Johansen said the district has about $25 million in reserves in the general fund, and said that was actually lower than average in the state. He said maintaining those reserves is key to the district maintaining a good bond rating, as well as being able to weather economic storms.

"It's the same as an individual having a bank account," he said." If you have a downturn, that's the only thing that's gonna get us through it."

After more than an hour of deliberation, the board began its regular public meeting. In stark contrast to last week’s Truth in Taxation hearing, the meeting was sparsely attended, and only one resident offered public comment, much of which was focused on concerns about the MIDA development.

A vote on the tax increase was the first action item on the agenda, and without any further discussion, the board passed the initial proposal 4 to 1. Allen voted against.

For a Wasatch County home valued at $1.6 million, the increase will raise the homeowner’s tax bill from $4,100 a year to $5,400 per year.