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Feb. 5 levy wins board approval

The White Salmon Valley School District Board of Directors will go to the voters on a proposed two-year maintenance and operation levy.

If you're a patron of White Salmon Valley School District No. 405-17, be sure to mark the date Tuesday, Feb. 5, on your 2002 calendar.

That's when you and other voters in the district can go to a polling place to cast a ballot on a proposed two-year, $1.24 million maintenance and operations levy that would replace the one that expires at the end of 2002.

And, with the exception of those who register for absentee ballots, voters will have to go to a polling place to vote if they want to participate in the election.

That's because the White Salmon Valley School Board decided at its meeting last Thursday that the election would be held at the polls, not be done by mail-in ballot.

The unanimously agreed-upon replacement levy proposes to increase local tax revenue by $100,000 per year, from the current collection of $1.14 million to $1.24 million.

Taxes under this proposal would be collected in 2003 and 2004 and placed in the district's general fund "to help defray the costs of maintaining and operating the education programs of the district for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years," according to the authorizing resolution passed at last week's meeting.

The tax rate in the first year of this levy would be an estimated $2.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The rate would drop to about $2.32/$1,000 in year two.

A major selling point of the replacement levy, according to district officials, is that the overall school tax rate -- including what taxpayers pay for two existing school construction bonds -- will decrease in both years.

The proposal approved by school board directors was one that arose from the discussion of four scenarios put forward by Superintendent Dale Palmer.

The four included a current-level levy of $1.14 million, two middle-ground levies of $1.2 and $1.208 million respectively, and a cover-it-all levy of $1.28 million.

Directors ruled out the first scenario because it didn't reflect what it currently costs the district to operate. Neither did the first of the two middle-ground scenarios.

Noted Palmer: "If we keep it at the current level, we will have to borrow $68,000 from our cash reserves just to cover the increased cost of utilities."

Even with a modest increase to $1.2 million, the district budget would be tight, but manageable if some cuts are made in the coming two-year M&O cycle, Palmer added.

"I think we can make it on a million-two, but it'll be close. We'll just have to watch things closely."

The second middle-ground approach would provide funding for what it cost the district to operate last year -- roughly $1.208 million because of higher utility costs -- but nothing for future increases, such as the coming rise in city water rates.

Board director Jack Stembridge said it's sensible to ask voters to approve the minimum levy, but not if it means having to offset a shortfall with cash reserves.

"It's good to shoot for the middle ground, but then again we don't want to come up short. And if we're coming up short $68,000 this year, we've made that mistake already," he said of the district's attempt to be frugal with local tax dollars.

Director Tom Stevenson observed that therein lay the difficulty of projecting M&O expenses -- or what's needed under any kind of school financing measure, for that matter -- a year before the funds will be collected.

"We're having to propose a levy for an economy that's obviously going to be different in 2003," he said. "But we have to pass that levy in 2002 under the existing economy."

The board spent little time discussing the $1.28 million proposal, which would have provided additional funding for such agenda items as Project Open Door and technology enhancements in the three schools.


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