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Alpine school board votes to increase taxes

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Property taxes on homes in the Alpine School District are expected to increase by about $5 a month following a Aug. 10 vote from the district’s governing body.

The board voted unanimously following a Truth in Taxation hearing to raise the property tax levy, citing tens of millions worth of capital projects that the Alpine School District has delayed for years and the rising cost of land and construction.

“I don’t love this, but I support it, because I think it’s necessary,” Stacy Bateman, a board member who represents Lehi, said prior to the vote. 

She urged residents to contact their state legislators to push for impact fees to help with the district’s continual growth.

School districts in Utah are primarily funded through property taxes. Some taxation, like bonds, the public votes on. Other taxes can be approved by school boards through a vote.

As a home increases in value, the property tax rate automatically decreases, so the amount of taxes paid on a residence stays the same. The district can also lose state funds if its property tax rate drops below a certain threshold. 

The board voted for the .006904 rate, which will be an increase of $60.88 a year for the median home value in the district of $369,000 (median, meaning that half of homes in the area are worth more, and half less.) A business of the same value will see an increase of $110.70 a year. 

That rate is still below the rates of the Davis, Granite, Nebo, Ogden and Provo School Districts, according to Rob Smith, ASD’s business administrator. 

In a presentation prior to the vote, Smith explained that the district has lost $4 million in state capital foundation and enrollment funds. Land values have also more than doubled over the last several years to more than $300,000 an acre, and ASD has deferred $82.5 million in maintenance projects like roofing, asphalt and air conditioning units since 2016. 

The cost of construction continues to skyrocket as well. 

“We have some supply chain issues,” Smith said. “We have labor cost increases, and there is a significant amount of economic activity in the state of Utah, but that brings additional costs for construction.”

The board decided last year to defer placing a potential $500 million bond on a ballot, which would have primarily been used building new schools and purchasing land for future ones. That decision, made due to the pandemic’s economic impact, would delay the opening of potential new schools by years.

The tax increase is expected to raise revenue by about $10.21 million a year.

Several people spoke out against the increase at a public hearing, questioning the cost of new buildings, criticizing signs outside of schools, stating that “taxation is theft,” calling schools “palaces” and voicing their dislike of meetings held virtually at times during the pandemic. Others said that there are too many unneeded employees in schools, made anti-transgender statements and claimed that the district is spending money on curriculum that “is often destructive to family relationships and values.”

Rebecca Olson criticized administrative salaries, said the district isn’t spending money wisely, and questioned how COVID-19 funds were spent.

“How about you scrap money in testing our athletes and testing for diseases that don’t exist and put that money towards our schools,” Olson said. 

Mac Sims voiced opposition to budget increases for non-instructional costs during the pandemic.

“That is a priority problem,” he said. “You have to figure out how to get that under control.”

James Cuppuccio said he views paying taxes as a patriotic act that gives back to an area that has given him so much. But, he said, he’d rather see the new funds go toward increasing teacher pay as the cost of living in the area increases.

“Teachers are feeling that much more than the district is or the administrators are,” he said. 

School board members pointed to the space needed in schools to handle student populations, noted energy-saving efforts and mentioned that there have been moves in the last few years that have increased employee compensation.

Julie King, a member of the board, reiterated that she doesn’t like property taxes, a sentiment board members have expressed multiple times.

“None of us do, and I think this is something that we have struggled with for months,” she said. 

The district uses portable and satellite classrooms to handle its more than 80,000 students, but King said that schools will need to be built if the district wants to keep up with growth or decrease class sizes. 

“We are doing everything we can to provide a safe school environment for students, but the reality is that the growth of our district is phenomenal, and we do everything we can within our capital planning to account for that,” she said. “The reality is we have to build a lot of schools.”

Board member Amber Bonner mentioned that recent school consolidations have saved money.

“We are continuing to look all the time for ways that we can cut back on what we are spending and ways that we can provide the same level of service to our students for less dollars,” Bonner said. 

Sara Hacken, a member of the board, said that funds need to go toward necessary repairs, like replacing roofs and basic functions at schools.

“We have to look at what is best for our kids and do it in a timely fashion, because it is much more cost effective to replace things before they fail,” she said. “I have taught in classrooms that were so hot that we could hardly think. Or so cold, all the kids had coats on, and they didn’t really care about anything that I was saying.”

Ada Wilson mentioned that a second school opening in Vineyard has taken pressure off the bursting Vineyard Elementary School and highlighted the importance of having proper facilities.

“I have lived in places that did not invest in their school buildings,” Wilson said. “They were dark. They had no windows. They were not pleasant to be in, they were not pleasant to work in, and I am grateful to work in a district that prioritizes windows and light and just great spaces to learn and live and work.”

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