CCISD to call for September 8 tax ratification election

By LYNETTE SOWELL

Cove Leader-Press

 

The Copperas Cove Independent School District board of trustees heard a presentation at its workshop last Monday, provided by Doug Whitt, the CCISD’s financial advisor, along with Clay Binford, bond counsel from the firm of Norton Rose Fulbright.

The presentation provided information on a tax ratification election to be set for September 8, when Copperas Cove voters will decide on what CCISD superintendent Joe Burns calls a “tax switch,” involving the two segments of the district’s property tax rate.

One part of the district’s property tax rate goes to fund maintenance and operations (M&O) and the other is for the interest and sinking fund (I&S), which covers the district’s debt service payments.

Presently, CCISD’s M&O rate is $1.04 per $100 of property valuation, and the I&S rate is $0.18, for a property tax rate total of $1.22 per $100 valuation.

Whitt told the board that one of the goals of the district is to “put forth a tax ratification election in order to soften the blow of lost revenues on the maintenance and operations side.”

With a tax switch, the district can keep the overall property tax rate the same, while it decreases the amount of taxes collected to pay off district debts and at the same time increases the amount of revenue to fund maintenance and operations.

For CCISD, that means the district would have an additional estimated $4.1 million toward maintenance and operations for next year’s annual budget.

This decision, however, will be up to Copperas Cove voters.

Binford explained how the ballot language and the proposed tax rates must be worded, so the tax switch may occur. The ballot would call for voters to choose a combined tax rate at $1.35 per $100 – a full 13 cents higher than the present $1.22. $1.17 of that would go toward maintenance and operations, and the remaining 18 cents would go toward the district’s debt service.

“But at the time you levy your tax, you as a board are going to ‘covenant’, you will commit to your voters that if the tax ratification election is successful, if they approve the $1.17 levy (for M&O), your debt service rate automatically drops to five cents.

“We have a process that we put forth that is a bit difficult to explain, but ultimately the taxpayer or voter is not impacted, regardless of the outcome of the tax ratification election,” Binford said.

Along with the adoption of the tax rate will come a tax levy resolution, said Binford, which includes the “covenant” of the school board that promises the I&S rate will immediately drop in the event the election is successful.

If voters reject the proposed tax rate change, Binford said, the M&O rate would be $1.04, and the I&S rate would remain $0.18, for the same combined tax rate of $1.22.

“It’s going to take some voter education, but the end result is not being impacted in the total tax rate, and $4.1 million is available for maintenance and operation revenue,” he added.

Whitt and Binford discussed the timing of the TRE, which is one of the few elections a taxing entity can have outside of a regular May or November election day. 

In addition to publishing notice of the proposed tax ratification election, the board most vote to approve an adopted tax rate based on preliminary property appraised values. The election should also occur prior to the board adopting the district’s annual budget. The truth in taxation publication will occur by June 17, then a notice will be posted on the district website after the board adopts a tax rate, which will occur on July 10. Early voting would start in mid-August prior to the election date of September 8.

“You want to have your tax rate finalized before tax bills are due,” said Whitt. “You don’t want to have tax bills go out, and then have to send a new tax bill after the election.”

The district’s budget would be adopted after the tax rate, but before the election. It would also be an “optional budget,” said Whitt, meaning two budgets will be presented, once if the election is successful and one if the election is not.

“You will have available what services will be impacted by the passage or failure,” he added, and so voters can “see the impact on maintenance and operations, programs, teachers, etc.”

The proposed tax rates will be $1.17 and $0.05, or $1.04 and $0.18, which will be published in notices, meeting minutes, and included in voter education.

However, the pair cautioned the board that the district may not campaign for a pro-ballot stance.  

“A school district cannot use its resources for a pro-advocacy on the election. Resources are your computers, your phones, your money, your vehicles, your facilities, your air conditioning,” said Whitt. “But you can provide voter information. In this case, the facts are the facts. You’re not telling them how to vote. If it passes, it’ll be $1.17 and $0.05 and the $1.17 will generate $4.1 million, and that $4.1 million will have this operational impact, meaning we have to cut less programs or these positions, or whatever. If you vote against it, we’re still going to set $1.22 and lose $4.1 million. We’re going to keep that on the I&S side and pay off bonds early.”

CCISD has faced the decrease of Heavy Impact Aid for several years. Impact Aid is Federal funding the district receives for its percentage of military-connected students. As per the district’s 2017 annual audit, 24.4% of its students are children of active-duty military or have parents who are employed civilians on post.

Another obstacle is that when property tax values increase, that means a loss of state funding for the district, said Burns.

For the current 2017-2018 year’s budget, CCISD’s general fund revenue comes from a combination of $43 million in state funds, $10.9 million in federal funds, TRS in-kind funding of $2.8 million, and a little more than $15 million in local property tax revenue. With the current year’s budget, the district has an estimated ending fund balance of $64,843,225. There was no discussion of the district’s proposed budget numbers for the 2018-2019 school year during Monday’s workshop.

Correction: The story originally stated that the proposed CCISD election is a tax rollback election. It is a tax ratification election, in which voters ratify the tax rates.

 

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