Davis tax talk draws a big crowd

Aug 11 2011 - 11:10pm

FARMINGTON -- People leaned against the walls, sat on the floor and stood in doorways at the Davis School District truth-in-taxation hearing because every chair was occupied.

More than 200 people attended the meeting held Thursday in the Kendell Building. Many of those who spoke in support of the tax increase were educators. Comments were split 50/50 for and against the tax increase.

Davis School Board members will vote on the proposed tax increase at their regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The proposed 7 percent tax increase would bring in about $8.5 million for the school district. It would offset the need for another $6 million in cuts, and the other $2.5 million would be used to decrease each kindergarten through third-grade class by one student, district officials said.

The proposed tax increase would mean a homeowner would pay almost $65 more a year on a $200,000 home.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said he received an email from a constituent who said legislators will be blamed for the tax increase.

"I'm here to take my share of the blame," Handy said. "We do not fund adequately public education in this state."

Handy said he "reluctantly supports" the tax increase, but will work during the next legislative session to better fund education.

Richard Wheelock, of Bountiful, spoke against the tax increase.

"I've been retired for the past 18 years, and every year my taxes go up," he said.

Wendy Pitt, a sixth-grade teacher at Oak Hills Elementary School in Bountiful, said, "Your children want to learn. Your children want to be motivated, but with 30-plus students in my class, this task becomes very difficult."

Her husband, John Pitt, also spoke in favor of the tax increase, saying education is the key to economic development. Businesses and companies in other states want to come to Utah, but want to know about Utah's education system.

The private sector is suffering with the current economy, said many of those who are opposed to the tax.

Rusty Cannon, chairman of the Davis County Republican Party, spoke against the tax increase.

"In the past eight years, Davis School District has had five truth-in-taxation hearings," Cannon said. "Enough is enough."

Cannon said the Republican Party may consider seeking candidates for the school board who are more fiscally responsible.

Kris Kimball, of Bountiful, spoke against the tax increase, saying residents would be back in a similar meeting next year.

"This is not the last tax increase you'll see," Kimball said.

Kimball said Utah, along with other states, has adopted a core curriculum that will cost each district more when it is implemented in 2012.

Scott Balaich, of Layton, a small-business owner, said, "I'm a product of the Davis School District. My children are students."

But he also said, "I cannot support a tax increase. We need more hands and eyes on the budget."

Valerie Windham, of Farmington, spoke for the tax increase. A new homeowner, Windham said she does not have any children, but, "It's about what our schools need just to meet the basic needs."

Becky Bouvang, a single mother, from Kaysville, also spoke in support of the tax increase. She said when she got her property tax evaluation, the proposed increase is $105, or $8 a month or "the price of a value meal, and the good news is I'll lose weight."

"We need to do what is best for the children," Bouvang said.

Kathy Sorte, a sixth-grade teacher at Bluff Ridge Elementary School in Syracuse, has lived and taught in schools in other states where the teacher-student ratio is much less than in Davis School district.

"I don't know the answer, but I know I'm not meeting the needs of my 33 students," said Sorte, who lives in Kaysville. "I'm a dang good teacher, but something needs to be done with class size."

Property taxes make up about 21 percent of the district's $380 million proposed budget. More than 70 percent of funds come from the state.

In the past three years, the district has faced nearly $70 million in budget cuts and cost increases. Those cuts include the elimination of more than 187 full-time positions and 100 part-time positions, district officials said.

The district has also seen 3,000 more students enrolling since 2008, said Craig Carter, the district's business administrator.

The district has also seen increases in health insurance costs and retirement costs. Teachers and staff are paying more for health insurance.

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