Sequim: School levy campaign spurs discussion on taxes

SEQUIM — The city is awash in the words “Vote Yes for Schools” — and who’d vote no on education?

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

Earlier this month, the Sequim School District sent out its latest salvo in the informational campaign about renewal of a tax levy during the Feb. 7 election — a double-sided, data-loaded sheet titled, “School Levy Facts.”

It drove Sequim resident Brian Bailey to protest.

“At best, this message is misleading, and at worst, downright deceptive,” Bailey wrote in a letter to the Peninsula Daily News.

He referred to a chart that showed property taxes dropping sharply if the school levy passes.

According to the chart, the current levy puts an 84-cent tax on every $1,000 in assessed property value, so the owner of a $200,000 home pays $168 a year.

If the renewal levy is approved by the required 60 percent of Sequim voters, the tax rate will shrink steadily to 80 cents per $1,000 by 2010, adding $160 to tax paid on a $200,000 home.

It’s “an estimated $2 a year decrease,” the fact sheet says in bold type over a jagged line pointing downward.

Property values not static

Bailey’s response: Come on. We all know Sequim property values aren’t staying the same through 2010.

“I would venture a guess that virtually no homeowner has had his or her assessed value remain flat,” he wrote.

“There will be no reduction in any one homeowner’s amount due.”

Bailey said that he’ll vote for the levy since he believes the school district is “doing a good job.” It’s “all the misleading spin” he objects to.

“The voters are not stupid,” he continued. “We know our school taxes aren’t going to go down.”

Sequim School Superintendent Garn Christensen was quick to respond.

“There was no attempt to mislead voters, but rather an attempt to make clear something that is rather complex,” Christensen wrote in a statement.

Then Christensen, who has given about 15 levy presentations to community groups in the past month, sought to explain the school-revenue calculus.

State law allows the Sequim school levy to bring in $2.6 million — no more, no less.

And now that property values are climbing and building booming, there are more homeowners and more valuable properties to pay into the pot.

And that, Christensen said, is how some homeowners’ taxes go down. It’s like having 1,000 people to buy a school bus instead of 500.

Christensen also made a vigorous case for the slate of programs the renewal levy would support.

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