Tax Levy Increases by the Numbers
Two weeks from today, voters in 10 school districts across the state will be asked to increase property taxes to provide more funding for their local schools. The proposed tax levy increases vary from 17 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in the Bloomfield school district in Stoddard County to 96 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in the Newburg district in Phelps County.
First, a quick primer on property taxes. Homes are assessed at 19% of their market value. So, for example, a school levy rate of $3.00 per $100 of assessed value applied to a house with a market value of $100,000 would mean that person pays $570 per year in tax. An increase of 50 cents per $100 in assessed value would mean paying an additional $95 per year.
As a reference point, the statewide average millage rate is $3.69 per $100 in assessed value, and the state calculates “local effort,” the amount local districts are expected to contribute before the state adds its funds, at $3.43 per $100 of assessed value.
Sometimes tax levy increases are necessary. For districts that are growing and need to build new school buildings, or districts that operate efficiently but are facing aging infrastructure, modest increases to the tax levy are perfectly appropriate.
That said, there are reasons to be skeptical. First, many school districts are not currently operating as efficiently as they could be. By comparing teacher/student ratios and administrator/student ratios, we see that many schools do more with less. The same is true with the average salaries for those positions—there is serious variation across districts (even in what seem to be similar labor markets) in how much teachers and administrators get paid. Also, some districts ask for levy increases to build new buildings when it is clear that their enrollment is on the decline. They should be figuring out how best to use what they already have.
We should also always be on the lookout for the pernicious effect of TIF deals that erode the tax base of school districts. Kansas City and St. Louis are chronic abusers of this system, which diverts tax revenue that should go to schools back into the pockets of developers, but TIF projects take place all over the state. If a district has hollowed out its tax base through TIF, why should ordinary citizens have to pick up the slack through increased property taxes?
To better inform voters, we have put together a series of information sheets on the proposed mill levy increases that are on the ballot on April 5. We provide data on what the mill levy means for homeowners in terms of the increased taxes they will be paying every year. We also provide data, drawn from publically available spreadsheets on DESE’s website, on the school district and the school districts that surround it so taxpayers can compare and contrast how well or how poorly the district is being managed.
Links to each of the info sheets are below.
Update, March 23: We now have an info sheet for the Maplewood-Richmond Heights school district.