School district to run new levy May 16

Philip A. Janquart
Weiser School Board trustees recently voted 3-1-1 to put another plant and facilities levy out to voters on Tuesday, May 16.
 The levy, if passed, would address critical plant and facilities needs within the school district that affect students, teachers, staff, and patrons. Some of the items in need of immediate attention include leaking roofs, foundation issues, and parking lot repairs, among others.
 May’s levy would be for $310,000 per year, for four years.
 “The proposed levy would replace the current $310,000, eight-year Plant and Facility Levy that is set to expire June 30, 2023,” stated WSD Superintendent Wade Wilson in a March 23 letter to parents and patrons. “The proposed levy is expected to maintain a tax rate similar to the expiring levy, which is approximately $36.85 per $100,000 of taxable property value.”
 A levy seeking $500,000 per year for four years narrowly missed passing on March 14, only 647 of over 5,000 registered voters going to the polls. Although the majority voted in favor of the measure – 343 for and 304 against – a 55 percent supermajority was required for it to pass, falling short by 1.99 percent, according to Washington County administrators.
 Local rancher Cody Chandler provided testimony during the district’s meeting, describing the impact levies have on farmers and ranchers.
 He said that agricultural operations are typically valued in the millions, and a levy that might cost many property owners less than $100 per year, costs farmers and ranchers thousands.
 “As all of you know, farmers are usually on the lowest end of income in our area, yet we are taxed the most,” said Chandler, speaking on behalf of Washington County Farm Bureau and as state board director of Idaho Farm Bureau. “These levies go into the thousands of dollars. Where you are able to put in the newspaper, ‘This will only raise your taxes some $80 a year,’ well, for me, it might be $2,500 a year, or $3,000 a year. I thought, if I can save myself $2,500, I could save myself from going broke this year. I mean, it’s that close.”
 The failure of a second levy would have big impacts, according to Wilson.
 “If the levy amount were to be absorbed into your general fund, it clearly means a push of other items,” explained Wilson, who indicated the district cannot expect additional state funding.
 The State of Idaho has allotted over $300 million dollars to public schools as a result of its 2022 $1.9 billion surplus, but much of that money is earmarked for teacher pay and raises. Funds for deferred maintenance of buildings and facilities has also been tagged as a top priority, but it is still unclear how much the state legislature plans to allocate or when schools might expect to see the money, if at all.
 Currently, there are still federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) III COVID funds available to the district, but it is not clear how much  remains. A large chunk will be used, to pay for sorely needed HVAC systems at Pioneer and Park schools, which will cost an estimated $1.2 million. The Signal American published a story on the new systems in its Dec. 14, 2022 issue.
 “Really, the only other place where there will be room is staff. That’s something for you to be aware of,” Wilson urged as district trustees discerned whether to attempt another levy. “Our greatest expense in the district is staffing.”
 Trustees ultimately voted in favor of the May 16 levy, with chairman Jim Brush, Melanie Price and Justin Erickson voting in favor, Nancy Lazaro voting no, and Dr. Mark Pritchard abstaining.


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