Columbia Public Schools district property tax to increase

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COLUMBIA - Residents within the Columbia Public School district will see an increase in their property taxes this year. 

CPS relies on local taxpayers to fund nearly 55% of the district's operating revenue budget. In April of 2016, voters passed a levy that would allow CPS to increase the local property tax rate ceiling to 65 cents. On Thursday, the Columbia Board of Education unanimously voted to use nine cents of that levy to increase the district's property tax rate.

"We only take the money when we are ready to use it," Michelle Baumstark, CPS Community Relations Director, said. "Voters authorize what the maximum can be, and they allowed us to increase the threshold 65 cents in 2016."

Baumstark said, each year the district sets an annual tax rate based on what she calls a "complicated formula." This year, the board approved a rate of $6.1425 per every $100 of assessed value property. 

The CPS 2018-2019 budget estimates the levy could lead to an expected increase of $13.5 million in operating revenues.

"Its support for our students," Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions said.  "It means guidance counselors in our classrooms, more so than any comparable district." 

Sessions said this is a minor change, but it's necessary to keep up with rising utility costs and the growing school district. 

"What people don't understand is that, by law, this happens every year," Baumstark said. "The rate can go up or down, but it's all based on our long-term financial plan and what the public has allowed us to do."

Baumstark said the increase was planned with two main operations in mind: addressing growth and employing salaries. She said CPS is planning to open a new middle school in 2020, and the levy helps the system with building and operating expenses. The increased tax rate will also help improve compensation and benefit plans for employees, as the district focuses on teacher recruitment and retention. 

A few teachers attended the hearing, and one told the Board she was thankful they thought of teachers in their discussion.

Susie Adams, representative of the Columbia Missouri Teachers Association and teacher at Battle High School, said she thinks the new tax number is a positive change.

"We're a great district, and we're attracting people in," Adams said. "It's a great place to work, and to be able to fund it adequately is really important."

One Columbia resident said it's no surprise the tax rate is going up with the growth of population. 

"I don't like higher taxes any more than anybody else does," Bud Stambaugh said. "But if the need is there and the taxes have been approved, I don't think it makes much difference."

Stambaugh said this will keep teachers in the district and help eliminate overcrowded classrooms.