Thursday, August 02, 2007

Revaluation leaves Boone County Schools between a rock and a hard place

This from the Cincinnati Post.

While it's good news for Boone County homeowners, a recent revaluation of commercial property could spell serious trouble for the county's school system.

In fact, unless something changes, it will mean a $5 million budget shortfall for the Boone County Schools, officials say.

They will be scrambling today to nail down the numbers and come up with options in preparation for a press conference on Thursday.

"We don't have a contingency fund of more than $5 million to make up for that particular deficit," Assistant Superintendent Randy Poe said.

The problem began in October, after Boone County Property Valuation Administrator Ron Burch committed suicide, and state officials started an emergency reassessment of property.

Their examination of all 2,400 commercial properties in Boone County resulted in an increase of $1.1 billion of property value over last year, a jump of more than 37 percent.

The reassessment means that residential property owners will likely pay less, since a state law known as House Bill 44 says overall property tax revenue can increase only 4 percent a year.

Adopting a tax rate that would realize more revenue than that could subject the rate to voter recall, so officials typically just roll back the tax rate. The current property tax rate in Boone County is 99 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation. Boone county has not set its tax rate for next year. The state property tax rate already has been lowered from 12.8 percent last year to 12.4 percent this year, said Boone County Property Valuation Administrator Cindy Rich.

Her office has not been involved in the tax reassessments. Final numbers are in flux because business owners are flocking to appeal their reassessments before state assessment officials.

No matter what the tax rate is, the amount collected usually remains at a stable 4 percent annual increase.

But the reassessment spells trouble for county schools because it will mean a reduction in state funding, which is based on the value of property, not the amount of tax revenue it generates, Poe said.

State funding is based on a formula that lowers the state's contribution as county property values increase.

One way to make up the difference is to adopt a tax rate that would exceed the 4 percent maximum overall increase in revenue each year.

That's something the board doesn't want to do, Poe said, because it amounts to the state passing its burden on to local residents.

School officials already have been talking with state legislators about getting some relief from the situation, which would kick in later this school year for the Boone County district.

"We can't afford to take a $5 million hit," school board Vice Chairman Ed Massey said.

The overall Boone County Schools budget is about $57 million.

The timing of the reassessment is especially difficult because the school district had to submit its budget in June and had to inform teachers if they were not going to be retained by April, said Schools Superintendent Bryan Blavatt. If the assessments had risen gradually, as is more typical, the schools could have made gradual adjustments, he said.

More on the negative impact of House Bill 44 on schools here.

No comments: