School levy, street sales tax up for vote

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WALLA WALLA - Voters will decide two local tax measures for schools and streets in Feb. 14 elections. Ballots will be mailed Jan. 27

The Walla Walla Public Schools District is asking district voters to continue funding for existing programs in a new four-year levy. The 2012 Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy would replace the current levy on property owners, approved in 2008 and expiring at the end of this year.

The levy represents about 20 percent of the district's operating budget, or about $10 million a year.

"We're not asking for anything that's new," Superintendent Mick Miller said. "And the rate is basically the same."

The funding covers expenses considered outside of basic education, such as music programs, physical education, athletics and the Explorers program for highly capable students in the third through eighth grades.

Miller said the levy also supports employment of many non-teacher, classified employees, including para-professionals, secretaries and maintenance staff. Library staff and health clinicians are also included.

"About one in three classified employees in our district is paid for by our local levy," Miller said. "We couldn't run our district without our classified folks."

Under the levy, the district would receive about $10.2 million the first year, at a projected rate of $3.64 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The collection amount and rate would increase slightly each of the following three years, with about $11 million collected in 2016 at a projected rate of $3.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

A simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote is needed for the levy to pass.

More details on the school levy are available online at wwps.org.

A measure to repair and maintain city streets calls for a two-tenths of a percent increase in sales tax within the city limits, a rate expected to raise roughly $1 million a year.

The city's current sales tax rate is 8.7 percent

City Attorney Tim Donaldson, who signed off the on the official ballot wording, explained that all projects funded by the sales-tax increase will have to be part of a long list of approved road improvements, all of which are authorized by the Transportation Benefit District board.

The proposed sales-tax increase had come under some criticism last year because state law allows Transportation Benefit District funds to be used for projects such as improving air quality or public transportation.

"It would be pretty hard for them to go on a spending spree with this money," Donaldson said of the new measure. "It is pretty well constrained by the statutes to the ones that are qualified and are listed and meet the criteria."

The top five of 26 street projects on a list prepared by city officials include an overlay of Rose Street from Second Avenue to Myra Road; chip sealing Alder Street from Wilbur Avenue to Park Street; reconstructing Howard Street from Alder Street to Reser Road; an overlay of Isaacs Avenue from Wilbur Avenue to Rose Street; and chip sealing Ninth Avenue from Pine Street to Rees Avenue.

Donaldson said changes to the list must be voted on by the district board, comprised of City Council members.

If approved, the sales-tax increase could not go beyond 10 years without being approved again by voters.

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