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editorial - daily mail - 12/29/00

December 27, 2000

Uncertainty over the economy may affect school board budget



This past May, the Washington County Commissioners raised property taxes and income taxes in a move that county finance officials estimated would cost the average taxpayer about $102 a year and give the school board a 6.2 percent budget increase.

The commissioners' efforts included their staff's last-minute scramble to find $379,000 so the county could take advantage of the governor's offer to give counties that raised teachers' pay by 4 percent another 1 percent in state money. It was a bold move in a county where tax increases are political poison, and it's unlikely we'll see a repeat performance this year.

That's not being hard-hearted, just realistic. The national economy is slowing down, which may affect tax receipts if the hoped-for "soft landing" is bumpier than expected. And after putting together a deal to raise county room tax rates, in part to fund a stadium deal that now seems to be on hold, county board members are aware that each tax hike creates a group that will oppose it - and any elected official who voted in favor of it.

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It's early in the process and there will no doubt be plenty of negotiation between the two boards before the final figure is agreed upon. But the advice we gave school officials last time bears repeating now.

To win over the commissioners and the average citizen, the school board must describe exactly what the dollars they're seeking will be used for. The argument that the board is entitled to a certain percentage increase this year because it was funded at that level in the past doesn't mean much to the average citizen.

What the average Jane and Joe want to know is how spending additional money will improve the system. Will higher salaries attract better teachers or keep the good ones here from leaving? Why are health insurance costs rising so quickly and what efforts have been made to hold them down? Can the school-consolidation plan proposed by a former state economic development official save money in the short term? Answer those questions, have those discussions and the school board may find the commissioners and the public more willing to support their program.

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