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Sunnyside officials say 'yes' vote on school levy will mean lower taxes

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Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole explains why passing February's school levy will actually keep taxes lower for citizens of Sunnyside, at a school board work session held last night (Thursday).

In February, Sunnyside voters will be asked to vote on a school levy that will actually result in a lower tax rate if it passes.

If the levy passes, taxpayers will pay $1.58 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2012, up from this year's rate of $1.25. If it does not pass, taxpayers will pay $1.91 per $1,000. Also, if it does not pass, the district will get less money.

During the Sunnyside School District Board of Directors work session last night (Thursday), Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole explained the way the school levy works in the district, and why it seems backward.

For many years before the first levy was submitted to voters, citizens of Sunnyside were proud of the fact that they didn't need a levy, according to Cole. But when the state government started to use levy equalization as a means of giving poorer school districts state funds, the district needed to run a levy to get those funds.

Most districts collect both a bond rate and a levy tax. Cole said the Sunnyside district decided to make a promise to voters that the district would only ever collect one or the other. When the first levy passed 12 years ago, the district kept its promise and has paid school bonds passed by voters using monies from the general fund.

The result has been more money for the district thanks to levy equalization and a lower tax rate for voters.

While the issue of levy equalization is still being debated in Olympia, the district needs to get the levy information turned in before the end of the month to be on the February ballot. So the district is working from the assumption and hope that levy equalization will not be severely cut.

No one can predict the future, but the district has made educated guesses based on past trends to decide on a levy amount of just over $2 million. The result will be a tax rate of $1.58 per $1,000 in the first year of the four-year levy, which will go down to $1.45 by the final year.

This levy rate is close to the rate promised by the district, according to Cole, and only a few cents higher than the 12-year average of $1.36 per $1,000 of property valuation from the past three levies. Also, the district did not increase the levy amount the last time it was passed, meaning the amount has not been raised in eight years.

Cole also presented the tax rates of other Yakima County districts to the attendees, and pointed out that even with the increase in levy amount, the district will still have the second lowest combined bond and levy tax in the county.

If the levy does not pass, the district will need to collect the bond rate, which is $1.91 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

During the meeting Cole also presented a worksheet with figures that had not been finalized that account for every dollar the district spends. He said the worksheet will be available to the general public when finished, allowing anyone with an interest to see exactly how the district spends its money.

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