Guest column: Think hard about need for more taxes before voting

By JD RAY, guest columnist

There is an important decision coming up soon for all taxpaying residents of Brown County that has a potential of significant negative impact on the financial situations of many people.

The Brown County School system requested an increase in the property tax rate to the tune of 8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Before you make that decision, there are some facts I think you should consider.

I have to say that in all my years I have never heard a school administrator or school board member state that they had enough money to run their school. They have always felt that more money was the answer to better education.

They are very adept at rationalizing any agenda they think relevant in addressing parents when pushing for more money. They also are good at instilling fear that if they don’t get more money, their children will suffer accordingly, and therefore, the parent agrees with the seeming need for yet more money to fund the school system. In Brown County, that agenda has worked very well.

Let’s look at the recent report by Assistant Superintendent Dennis Goldberg explaining what he offered as the true way to evaluate the cost per student.

He went to detailed lengths explaining various funding procedures and applications that would only make sense to an accountant. His final tally was that the actual cost per student in the BCS system was only $6,602.

That’s somewhat misleading. That may be the actual cost of student instruction. Here’s the bottom line on cost-per-student values.

Every other government agency and private education data organization figures the cost per student as the total public tax-funded budget divided by the number of students in that system. The state legislature does it that way as well as the Indiana Department of Education.

Let’s simplify the issue. The cost per student in the BCS system is currently around $12,473. That’s a three-year average where previous years were closer to $13,000. Where does that figure come from? Page B11 of the March 30 edition of the Brown County Democrat in the annual BCS corporation performance report.

Of puzzling interest is their value of the statewide average of $11,052 per student. That figure seems to be inaccurate. According to Indiana Legislative Services, an agency of the state Legislature, their figure is $9,266 per student for 2016. They use those figures in committees while determining funding procedures. The Department of Education figure is $9,566 per student and is not quite up-to-date but still well below the BCS corporation figure. That results in a cost per student $3,207 higher than the state average.

The entire budget is supported by public tax money. It also makes no difference whether the general fund or rainy-day fund isn’t supported by property tax revenue. It’s still taxpayer-supported funding. They’re spending too much money somewhere that other state systems are not.

By the way, funds can be directed to the rainy-day fund out of any fund of the schools’ budget except debt service. Therefore, property tax money could very well account for any rainy-day funds. The Department of Local Government Finance has stated there is no way to really track those transfers.

You’ll recall 2011. That’s the year when the BCS corporation pulled a creative accounting trick where they entered the same $5.1 million in two different funds. The result was that Brown County residents ended up paying that amount too much on their property tax bills. The state closed that loophole so the trick couldn’t be pulled again. The same superintendent and almost the same academic-stacked school board are still in place.

I don’t feel most residents are aware of just how much this increase will affect them. Tricia Bock is thrilled that her tax bill will only go up about $37. Based on that, the assessed valuation of her home is somewhere under $120,000.

Tom Barr indicates that with a residential owner-occupied property assessed at $148,000, the increase would be $52. Using the DLGF referendum impact calculator, it would be $54.

The median home price in Brown County is around $158,000. That total would be a $59-per-year tax increase. That’s in the classification of residential homeowner with homestead exemptions. However, if you own a rental property or land classed as agriculture, or if you’re a non-resident and have a vacation home, that figure will increase to $126 per year.

The problem for non-resident vacation homeowners is they don’t get to vote in the county primary. If the assessed value is $185,000, those figures jump to $73 and $148, respectively.

If you are a business property owner, and say your assessed value is $200,000, your taxes will increase $160 per year.

To find out how much your tax bill would increase, log on to the DLGF website and find the referendum impact calculation page.

On that page you’ll also notice something that isn’t general knowledge. If the referendum is approved, the levy will not count against the tax caps. If, in the next seven years, the 1 or 2 percent threshold is reached, taxes will be due for the referendum increase beyond that.

If you rent a home, you should be concerned also, as your landlord’s classification falls under rental and they will incur a tax bill greater than resident property owners and will almost assuredly raise your rent to cover any increase.

After the next elections, either primary or next November, there will be a push to increase property taxes to deal with the failing county infrastructure. Reaching the tax cap threshold is a real possibility in the next seven years. And one cannot say that the BCS corporation will not request another tax levy increase in the next seven years.

In closing, I offer this:

BCS states that the increase is needed to maintain class size. Why? The enrollments have been static or have dropped for several years.

They state they need the increase to maintain academic standards. Why? Their accountability grade is “A” and has been for some time.

They need the increase to maintain their facilities. Why? Their “campus” is state-of-the-art and they are adding on this summer — again, with a declining or static enrollment.

They want to maintain teachers and salaries. They just gave teachers and other staff raises. Starting teacher’s pay is $31,519, topping out at $63,862. That’s pretty good for Brown County.

By their own admission, they keep a perennial bond in place for capital projects. That’s like a homeowner keeping a home improvement loan on hand at all times, not using it but paying the monthly payment forever.

We are also are asked to support two school systems in Brown County. They are, again, requesting additional subsidies to fund the Career Resource Center. We went though this in 2011 when the BCS corporation requested and was granted a tax increase to fund the CRC. The need to continually subsidize the CRC will never end. Not enough is made on tuition fees to totally support its programs. Will the taxpayer continue to have to support this BCS corporation extension school no matter how much it costs?

I do not think that if this referendum is denied that the BCS corporation will collapse academically or result in decayed infrastructure. If they were suffering in any of those areas, I would be on board with a supportive increase.

They don’t function like a system that is in dire need of funding. They are moving ahead with extensive “campus” expansions. They have the money to take out a full-page color ad in the Brown County Democrat.

The BCS corporation and school board need to be put “on hold.” The system will survive. We need to see what is going to happen with county as well as state elections this November. There are tax increases coming in the next seven years and tax caps could be reached.

If one sees any merit in these facts, then you need to get out this May and vote.

Keep in mind that BCS corporation employees number about 300 people. You can almost guess how they will vote — plus, the parents, friends and relatives who have been pretty well indoctrinated by school parent meetings where I’m sure they have declared disaster if the referendum isn’t passed. The odds, frankly, are heavily in their favor.

But keep in mind that if approved, and down the road tax caps are achieved, we will live with this increase for the next seven years plus any additional tax bills.