B.G. school levy fails, backers look to April

La Center, Camas, Ridgefield approve maintenance levies

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Battle Ground Public Schools failed to pass a replacement four-year maintenance and operations levy Tuesday night.

But in spite of the failure, the levy's backers say they've set their sights on the April ballot, when they'll try again to pass the levy.

Out of the five maintenance and operations levies to appear on the county's February ballot, Battle Ground's was the only one to fail. La Center, Camas, Ridgefield and Vancouver all passed their M&O levies. Vancouver and Camas also passed technology levies, while La Center failed to pass a first-time capital fund levy for sports facilities.

The mood was somber at the Mill Creek Pub, where Battle Ground's levy supporters gathered to watch the election results.

John Idsinga, president of the Battle Ground School Board, said he was in "shell shock" following the release of the election results. The levy failed with more than 55 percent of district voters casting a "no" vote.

"What we're asking for is what we need," Idsinga said. "This is the minimum amount we need."

The levy would have raised the district's tax rate by 25 cents in 2014. For district residents, that would have meant a tax rate of $4.49 per $1,000 of assessed home value, which would have generated about $24.42 million in revenue for the district.

Residents would have paid $898 in 2014 for a home valued at $200,000, a $50 increase over what they're paying in 2013.

Superintendent Shonny Bria said the district has a history of successfully running levies twice.

The Battle Ground School Board will readdress the levy at a meeting later in the month.

Still, a second failure could drastically affect the district's revenue moving forward, officials said. Not only would Battle Ground, Clark County's geographically largest school district, lose about 20 percent of its operating revenue, it would also lose an additional $6.1 million in levy equalization funds from the state.

That money is set aside to backfill the budgets of property-poor school districts, but only if they the district passes a maintenance and operations levy.

Meanwhile, in La Center, a first-time capital fund levy failed to pass.

The levy would have collected $200,000 in each of its six years, with a tax rate starting at 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value in 2014. The levy would have meant owners of a house with an assessed value of $200,000 would have paid an extra $58 a year in property taxes.

The money would have gone toward improving La Center High School's sports fields.

The district doesn't plan to place the levy on the April ballot, Superintendent Mark Mansell said.

The district's three-year maintenance and operations levy passed, however. Unlike other school districts, La Center chose to keep its levy flat in the coming years.

"We were very thankful our maintenance and operations levy passed," Mansell said, "but we are a bit puzzled and dismayed about the capital fund levy."

The three-year M&O levy will collect $2.55 million each year, with the expected tax rate starting at $3.76 per 1,000 of assessed home value in 2014, the same as its 2013 rate. It will drop to $3.72 in 2015, and then to $3.65 in 2016.

District residents can expect to pay $752 for a $200,000 house in 2014, the same as 2013.

The Camas School District had two replacement levies on the ballot. One was a four-year maintenance and operations levy and the other was a replacement technology levy for the same period.

With the passage of the levies, the district's M&O tax rate will start at $3.41 per $1,000 of assessed home value in 2014, a 13-cent increase over the 2013 rate.

The tax rate will increase to $3.48 in 2015, $3.53 in 2016 and $3.61 in 2017. For the owner of a $200,000 house, the district expects the 2014 tax to be $682, a $26 increase over 2013.

The district's levy is expected to collect $11.45 million in 2014, $11.8 million in 2015, $12.2 million in 2016 and $12.75 in 2017.

The district's technology levy will be 38 cents each year. That will mean a tax rate of $76 for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

The Ridgefield School District passed a three-year replacement maintenance and operations levy. The levy will start at $2.30 per $1,000 of assessed home value in 2014, a 4-cent increase over 2013. The rate will increase to $2.38 in 2015 and $2.46 in 2016.

"We're pleased we're able to have the voters show some of their support," said Ridgefield Superintendent Art Edgerly.

The district also had the highest voter turnout, with more than 36 percent of district residents casting a ballot.The levy will collect $4.1 million in 2014, $4.31 million in 2015 and $4.52 million in 2016.

District residents will pay $460 taxes in 2014 for a home with an assessed value of $200,000, an $8 increase over 2013.

The Ridgefield School District holds the highest property tax base in the county, due to lots of high-value property at the Ridgefield Junction. Because of that, it also has the lowest tax rate in the county and also does not receive levy equalization funds from the state.

It's the only school district in Clark County not to receive the funds.