Taxpayers could see some relief from the West Salem School District this year if preliminary budget projections hold true this fall.
The tax rate could fall to $8.24 per $1,000 of equalized property value this year. That is compared to a rate of $9.42 in 2016 and $10.20 in 2015.
This means that a property owner with a home valued at $100,000 can expect to pay $824 in property taxes to the district this year.
This doesn’t mean district residents will pay less in taxes this year. With property values in the district up an estimated 7 percent, taxpayers may see an increase in their taxes.
“Property values are up which is going to drive our (tax) rates down,” Superintendent Troy Gunderson said.
Fueling this steady decline in the tax rate are rising property values and state aid combined with a stagnant levy limit that has prevented the district from spending more.
The district expects to collect roughly $10.5 million in state aid this year. With the district’s levy limit unchanged, the increase in state aid will shift the burden of paying for the district off of tax payers.
The district’s jump in aid, however, will be short lived.
Gunderson said that a double payment to the district’s bonds when it refinanced them resulted in the higher aid figure. If the district spends less next year, as he expects it will, aid will fall again and could drive the tax rate back up.
He warned that budget is far from complete and will be subject to change until it is finalized in late October.
“This isn’t going to be finalized until the 29th of October,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say here we’re going to drive down our mill rate another dollar.”
A drop in the tax rate isn’t guaranteed.
Board member Ken Schlimgen said the district could choose to pre-pay its debt on the middle school renovation or athletic facilities upgrade as a way to keep the tax rate stable year to year.
“We’ll have options,” Gunderson agreed.
He said the district will need to consider all of its options as it looks to pass an operating referendum to exceed the levy cap.
West Salem is the last school district in the county not have passed an operating referendum to exceed the limit.
“The issue that we have now is this thing is boxing us into a corner,” Gunderson said.