Leander ISD considers stable tax rate

Property value increases leave funds to pay down existing debt

The Leander ISD school board will consider maintaining the current property tax rate for the 2014 fiscal year thanks to rising commercial and residential values.

The board on Aug. 1 directed staff to advertise a tax rate of $1.51187 per $100 of assessed value prior to holding an Aug. 29 public hearing.

The board must adopt a tax rate to support the budget before Sept. 15. The recommended tax rate supports a proposed $247.4 million general operating budget, which must be approved before the fiscal year begins Sept. 1.

Residential property values in Leander ISD increased an average of 3.41 percent, said Ellen Skoviera, LISD assistant superintendent for business and operations. Under the proposed rate, the annual tax bill on an average home valued at $229,000 would increase by $114.15, she said, or $9.51 per month.

The increase will allow the district to collect about $3.3 million in additional funds that will go toward paying down and restructuring existing debt, Skoviera said. The tax rate to fund maintenance and operations is capped at $1.04 per $100 of value, which the district has met. The highest rate a district can collect to repay its debt is 50 cents per $100 valuation. The proposed debt repayment rate is $0.47187.

"Can you levy a [debt repayment] rate more than what immediate debt schedule shows? Yes, if you have callable bonds in the year you're levying, which we do," Skoviera said. "We can put cash into refunding [bonds] in the interest of smoothing the tax rate and not having more debt out than there needs to be."

The board discussed the option of increasing the debt repayment tax rate to the 50-cent cap, which would yield about $8 million for debt repayment. Though there was no formal vote, the majority of the board did not favor an unexpected tax hike without warning for residents.

"That would be a huge shift in the board's philosophy in this district, which has been to keep the tax rate as low as we can, and lower it if possible," Board President Pam Waggoner said. "I'm at the 47 cents because we haven't talked to the public about it enough."

The proposed operating budget includes about 123 new positions, a 1.5 percent salary increase for staff, $1.3 million for buses and equipment and $809,500 for technology equipment.