In the year 2000, when the Lake Pend Oreille School District first ran a supplemental levy vote, the amount was $1.26 million for the year. Since then, supplemental levy amounts have risen steadily, often dramatically. Last March was a 49% increase over the previous levy at a staggering $12.7 million per year. This record amount was a 10-fold increase since 2000.
LPOSD declared its financial future solid, and six weeks later, in a surprise announcement, took steps to make this record-high levy permanent through a November vote. Should it pass, voter approval will no longer be required – it will run indefinitely at that amount.
This decision for a permanent levy was an abrupt break with years of declarations by current and former school board members that the district was not interested in a permanent levy. School board minutes as recently as 2016 show that “Chair Youngdahl said he would absolutely like to see a two-year levy only and not a permanent levy.” At a Bonner County Republican Central Committee meeting he went a step further, saying that no permanent levy was under consideration because it would mean that they couldn’t raise the levy amount.
This unabashed admission spoke to LPOSD’s well-established trajectory: in good times or bad, higher levies were to be expected. It confirmed LPOSD’s philosophy, espoused clearly by former Superintendent Woodward, that their needs would always outstrip their revenue.
So why the sudden move to pursue the previously disdained permanent levy?
First, fear that the window on a permanent-levy option may be closing. Earlier this year, the Legislature narrowly defeated a bill designed to do that. It is expected to surface again in the upcoming legislative session. This would leave only the options of 2-year supplemental levies or a 3-to-10-year extension, both requiring voter approval. LPOSD dislikes going to voters for approval; Chief Financial Officer Lisa Hals admitted as much by calling it “less than ideal”. A permanent levy, once approved, would eliminate voter approval for years to come.
That would alleviate the second LPOSD concern, namely that voter approval for levies is no longer the sure thing it used to be. In the past four years, No votes sharply increased and in many more precincts than ever before. Levy fatigue has set in.
So it is now seeking the “more ideal”, permanent levy that would sideline voters for at least a few years because the $12.7 annual amount will keep the district flush for a while. No need for voters, less accountability and less transparency. When more money is needed – and it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when” – there is always the option of another levy. In simple terms, “Give us all your money now for as long as we say it’s enough and then we’ll demand more.” This is what passes for “stable funding” in LPOSD’s world.
You may have heard LPOSD’s soothing claim that, with a permanent levy, the annual amount may actually be reduced at the discretion of the school board. This is disingenuous, because that option exists for a 2-year levy as well. Yet LPOSD has never, not even in the best of times, reduced its levy, and there is no reason to believe that it will do so when a permanent levy guarantees its funding for as long as they like.
In summary, a permanent (or indefinite-term) levy will tie us to a permanent debt of $12.7 million per year for as long as LPOSD chooses. This means that there is no chance your school taxes will decrease unless LPOSD decides to reduce the levy, and that has never happened.
Higher school taxes mean less affordable housing, which will cause less affluent families to leave. This is already the case now, as the demographics of Bonner County show. The most employable group of ages 25-64 are moving away. It is time to take a stand against LPOSD’s greed.
Please vote no on the indefinite term levy.