Despite doubts, school board renews rec tax
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
March 15, 2013
While some school trustees question the use of recreation district funds, they still voted Wednesday to continue levying the property tax surcharge.
The tax, first established in 2007, generates more than $1 million in revenue each year and pays for supplies, capital projects, summer school programs and maintenance for the schools and the Jackson community.
Some school trustees, however, believe the tax is redundant and inefficient.
“I feel like in many ways the school district as well as the county all are putting money into similar programs that probably could be funded at significantly less expense if there was collaboration in how those programs would be put together,” Trustee Kate Mead said.
Teton County School District No. 1 board members started debating the future of the tax before signing off on the school district’s requests for recreation district money two months ago. Meantime, a deadline loomed to renew it. Trustees rescheduled when they would sign off on the mill levy this year so they could set the rate before the recreation district is scheduled to approve grants in April.
The recreation district board has already received $1.3 million in funding requests this year. With a 0.9 mill levy, the recreation district board is projected to collect $1,036,571 in tax revenues, board president Ray Elser has said.
Mead said the recreation district has become “a big slush fund” for the school district. It does not have rigorous oversight and could be better managed, she said.
Other board members noted the tax creates inefficiencies in the way Jackson-area governments and the schools pay to maintain athletic fields and recreation centers.
Trustee Janine Bay Teske said the school district’s agreement with the town and county for use of the school fields is a prime example. In exchange for using the fields, the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Department pays for their upkeep. In turn, the town and county applied for and received money from the recreation district last year to pay for the fields’ maintenance.
“We have to mow the grass around Alta [Elementary] School and then parks and rec goes over and mows the field,” Teske said. “I would like us to look at the numbers and to find out if there is a more collaborative approach that will drive efficiency in the maintenance of all of these grounds and fields.”
Trustee Syd Elliott said she had similar concerns.
“Sometimes normal maintenance and operations should be” paid for within existing budgets, she said. “I’m not sure the purpose of the rec district was to fill those gaps.”
The school board can levy up to 1 mill of property tax each year for the recreation district. For every $100,000 of a home’s appraised value, one mill generates $9.50 a year in taxes.
Trustee Paul D’Amours said the mill levy is set at an appropriate level. And the lion’s share of revenues are reinvested in the school district, he said.
“All of these are good programs that are being funded,” he said.
In the end, the board voted to levy 0.9 mills in recreation district property taxes on a 6-1 vote. Only Mead voted against the tax.