Homeowners in the J.O. Combs Unified School District are outraged by what they think is a significant tax increase associated with the district's budget for the 2008-09 school year.
But the district's taxes are actually going to decrease, despite the language in the published "truth and taxation" notice, said Karla Slovitsky, J.O. Combs' director of finance.
"The bottom line is tax rates aren't increasing," Slovitsky said.
According to her calculations, the taxes on a house worth $170,164 will decrease $134.50. Slovitsky said the tax rate will drop from last year's 8.9 percent to this year's 8.1 percent.
Vicki Mertes, a resident in the J.O. Combs district, said the published notice made it appear that taxes were being raised 823 percent. She sent out an e-mail blast to homeowners to let them know about Wednesday's school board meeting when the board was scheduled to approve the budget.
"We were just concerned because we have so many homes that are being foreclosed," said Mertes, president of the Cambria Ocotillo homeowners association. "It was a real eye-opener."
But education officials say the information in truth and taxation notices - which are required by state law - offer an incomplete picture that can confuse homeowners.
Such notices give information about local taxes the school board can raise without voter approval, such as tax dollars to pay for improvements to streets around a school. But those items are a small portion of the tax bill. They do not by themselves make a district's tax rate increase or decrease.
"In most districts, those items we're talking about are 10 percent of the district's budget," said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
So, Essigs said, it's "very possible to have an increase in truth and taxation and a decrease in tax rates, or vice versa."
What homeowners really need to know, he said, is what their tax rate is now, and what it will be, along with the value of their house.
The J.O. Combs school board approved the $60,027,297 budget Wednesday night. The budget includes a 3.5 percent pay increase for all employees and money to finish the district's first high school, Combs High, which will open in fall 2009.
Also on Wednesday, both the Coolidge and Florence unified school districts approved budgets for the upcoming school year.
The Coolidge board approved the $33,535,254 budget, which includes a 2.5 percent pay increase for all employees except administrators, said Kenneth Smith, executive director for business and planning.
The district's tax rate is expected to go down, from $7.07 to about $6.25 per $100 of assessed value, Smith said.
Coolidge will open San Tan Foothills High School on Aug. 4 in the Queen Creek area at Gary and Silverdale roads.
The Florence school board approved the $43,395,387 budget, which includes a 4.3 percent pay increase for all employees, said Beverly Myers, the district's business manager.
The district is building Poston Butte High School, which will open in July 2009. Magma Ranch Elementary School is in its finishing stages and is expected to open in February 2009.
No tax increases are expected in the Florence district, Myers said.