MORGAN -- With the cost of transporting students rising, Morgan County property taxes will increase this year.
Since the valuation of Morgan County homes dipped over the past year, the state recommended increasing the tax rate to generate the same money for education as last year.
Using the 0.006993 percent rate recommended by the state, property taxes on a $200,000 home would increase $69.85 for 2012.
D'Lynn Poll, Morgan School District business administrator, recommended a higher rate of 0.007044 percent, or an additional $5.61 beyond the state's recommendations. The school board unanimously voted to approve the higher rate, which will mean an increase of $75.46 on a $200,000 home. The increase will help the district avoid a $100,000 deficit in transportation budgets.
Dwindling transportation money is the foremost reason Morgan School District officials consider raising tax rates. The new rate reflects the maximum transportation levy the state will allow.
"The increase is so we don't have such a large deficit in our transportation budget," said Poll, who noted that the state Legislature has decreased school district transportation funds in the past few years. For rural schools like those in Morgan with a high percentage of bus students, the decrease has had a huge impact, she said.
In addition, the county is struggling under a lower collection rate, meaning fewer people are paying their taxes in full each year. In 2009, the collection rate was 97 percent; for 2011, the rate dipped to 92 percent, Poll said. A recent legislative change considers any taxes collected late a "windfall" for the school district.
"Eventually we will collect that money as a redemption, but the bottom line is we never get to use that money unless we do Truth in Taxation and change our rate to capture it," Poll said.
Raising the certified tax rate above the state's recommended rate means the district can recapture some of the late tax collections.
School officials encouraged county residents to contact their legislative representatives to ask for an increase in transportation money. Donating money to the local Parent Teacher Student Organization and Morgan Education Foundation also would help.
Those attending the recent Truth in Taxation hearing said they would be willing to pay a bus fee or even drive their children to school to avoid increased taxation. They also encouraged cutting back wherever necessary.
School board members said if the economy and legislative funding don't improve, they may have to consider cutting funding for extracurricular school activities. Already, school administrators have asked sports teams to consolidate schedules in order to cut transportation expenses.
"We don't have luxuries to cut," board member Ken Durrant said. "The most important thing is education of the children."
"We have some of the wealthiest people in the state of Utah, but we are one of the poorest districts in the state," Superintendent Ken Adams said. "If you can afford a big home, why should they not pay for the education of their children?"