Although Columbus residents may see property tax increases, Columbus Public Schools District’s total tax levy remains about the same.
The CPS Board of Education held a public hearing and approved its 2022-2023 property tax asking request and budget on Sept. 19.
According to information provided at the public hearing, the school district’s total tax levy is about the same, being reduced from 1.226958 to 1.226957. Valuation, which is set by Platte County, has increased from $2,306,087,745 to $2,429,291,216, a 5% difference. CPS’ total tax asking has increased from $28,235,416 to $29,744,184, a 5.3% difference.
“The levy is used to calculate tax asking from Columbus Public Schools, and it remained the same from last year,” said Finance and Human Resources Director Chip Kay. “So your increase in tax asking would be the same percentage increase as your valuation, if their valuation stayed the same – 0% -- then their increase is 0%. But because we didn't change the levy, really, you were asking everybody for the same amount per valuation, it's just that everybody's valuation went up.”
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CPS will also be explaining its tax request during a joint, public meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at Columbus Middle School, 2200 26th St. in Columbus. The City of Columbus will also be participating in the hearing as well.
Legislation passed recently requires political subdivisions to take part in a public hearing in order to increase their property tax requests. Affected taxpayers should have received a pink postcard in the mail from the county notifying them of the public hearing.
“Our allowable growth was 4.04%. Everybody can increase their tax asking by 2%. And our real growth went up 2.04%,” Kay said. “If you add the two together, we could have increased our tax asking by 4.04%. We actually exceeded that 4.04%, which is why we have to participate in the county meeting.”
Notably, Kay said, CPS is losing 21% of its state aid this year – or $3.8 million.
“We’re dipping into cash reserves. We didn't cut staff, we didn't come for a levy override, we basically maximized everything we can do under law without additional burden,” Kay said.
“We're not asking for $3.8 million more. We're asking for just under $1.6 million more in total tax dollars, it's just that we shifted some of our other tax asking for prior years over to the general fund as well. So we got pretty close to making up that.”
Kay further explained to the Columbus Telegram earlier this week that there are several factors considered with state aid but generally, when valuations go up in a community, more property tax can be collected.
“Instead of keeping state aid the same based on other things, we lost state aid because we can collect more from our taxpayers by levying the same amount,” Kay said.
Kay noted that is why CPS officials were involved in spearheading a property tax bill in the Nebraska Legislature's last session that would have restructured some of the ways that state aid is allocated to schools, among other things. That bill did not make it through the legislature.
In other business, the board talked about a shortage of bus drivers.
Superintendent Troy Loeffelholz said field trips are currently a challenge, as the school district’s new buses – ordered a little over a year ago – haven’t yet arrived and there are a lack of drivers to bus kids to activities. Some trips were canceled last week because CPS could not find drivers, he added.
“The priority is if it's an NSAA-certified activity where varsity has to go out...” Loeffelholz said. “If it's between co-curricular and sub-varsity game then we're going to have to have a serious conversation. Co-curricular's probably going to win that in a lot of cases, but we just have to look and see how we can get kids to where. So we're going to be real creative in how we do that.”
Finding drivers is a struggle everywhere, Loeffelholz said, and every school district he’s spoken with is having the same problem. He noted that CPS has contacted bus companies, including charter services, but they come with hefty price tags.
Kay noted CPS has all of its route positions filled.
“The difficulty is that a lot of those route drivers don't want to put in time in the evening or weekend driving activities,” Kay said. “…You need somebody that's got a unique schedule. Most districts I've been in, it's maybe a former route driver that retired or semi-retired coaches.”
Kay said if the issue continues, he’s spoken with Director of Technology and Operations Leonard Kwapnioski about strategies to incentivize current staff to get their commercial driver’s license so they can drive a bus.
Additionally, the board approved the purchase of a new mower from Lakeview Small Engine Inc. in the amount of $65,405.52.
According to a publicly available memo, the school district’s current mower has over 5,000 hours, has reached its lifespan and some parts on it are beyond repair. There are funds set aside for the purchase and are available in the district’s budget, the memo states.
Hannah Schrodt can be reached at email@example.com.