The reluctance of Manhattan-Ogden School Board President Curt Herrman and member Darell Edie to raise the board’s capital outlay budget taxing authority is appreciated. Nevertheless, the majority was right to raise the cap from the present 6 mills to the maximum of 8 mills for items such as building maintenance and investments in computers.
As was noted by several board members, raising the authority to boost taxes by two mills, an authority that will last for five years, is not the same as raising taxes. What the move does is give the board more flexibility than it would have if it did not raise its cap or raised it by one mill.
The debate about whether to raise the authority by 1 mill or 2 is noteworthy in that it shows the sensitivity of board members and staff about even the perception of a tax increase. Superinten-dent Bob Shannon, for instance, observed that limiting the authority to increase taxes by 1 mill was a way to be “cautious with folks in the community.”
And Lew Faust, who handles finances for the district, pointed out that the board has been reluctant to push its authority to the maximum to keep property taxes low as it could.
Mr. Herrman objected to approving the maximum taxing authority to avoid leaving the impression that the eventual mill levy would be higher than it might actually be.
What’s more, board member Marcia Rozell, who voted to increase the cap to the maximum allowed, made a point of saying, “As long as we’re not voting on what the mill levy will be, I’m comfortable with the 8 (mills).”
Board member Aaron Estabrook, who also voted for the maximum taxing authority for capital improvements, wondered, “Since we’re not actually setting (the mill levy), why not go to 8? Why are we limiting ourselves before we get there?”
The more difficult decision, of course, will come if and when board members “get there.” Raising this levy by 2 mills would increase property taxes for the owner of a home valued at $100,000 by $23.53 — not the sort of decision board members take lightly. Inching the levy up by one mill would increase that property owner’s taxes by almost $12, a less difficult decision but still not an easy one. That’s especially the case given that capital outlay is just one part of the school district’s overall budget.
The school board is just one of the local governing bodies wading into discussions for next year’s budget. The City of Manhattan and the Riley County Commission are also in the early stages of setting their budgets, and face similarly difficult decisions.
We urge residents to pay close attention in the coming weeks, attend meetings when possible and ask questions. That can help ensure that the final budgets reflect citizens’ priorities, not just those of elected officials.