For the first time in many years, the total value of homes, businesses and other property taxed in the Bozeman School District grew by an anemic 1.7 percent, a sign of the recession's impact.
"I was a little surprised myself," said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent for business for the past 25 years.
Each August, Johnson awaits the taxable value numbers from the state Department of Revenue so he can calculate the property tax rates for the coming year.
The Bozeman School Board will vote Monday night on final approval of school budgets for the coming year and on setting property tax rates.
In the months leading up to the final budget, Johnson always tries to be conservative in estimating how much property values will increase. This year when preparing the budget he guessed they would grow by 3 percent.
Most years, that's a safe bet because Bozeman's property values historically have grown much faster than that. Two years ago, for example, the state calculated property values here increased by 5.5 percent in the Bozeman elementary district and 6.3 percent in the larger high school district. Last year, the taxable values increased 3.2 percent and 3.4 percent.
This year, the value of taxable property grew by just 1.6 percent in the elementary district and 1.7 percent in the high school district. The elementary district includes the city of Bozeman plus Bridger Canyon, Elk Grove and a few other areas beyond city limits; the high school district adds areas west to Four Corners and Gallatin Gateway and east to the Park County line.
"The good news is we were able to uphold that promise" made to voters in the May school elections, that tax rates would decrease slightly, Johnson said. "Originally, I estimated a little more of a decrease - couple bucks. Instead, it's going to be 3 cents."
The tax rate in the high school district will decrease from 75.34 mills to 73.63 mills. For the owner of a $100,000 home, that amounts to a $2.71 annual decrease.
In the elementary district, the tax rate will increase from 121.55 mills to 123.24 mills. However, since elementary taxpayers are also part of the high school district, their overall tax bills would decrease by 3 cents for a house with a $100,000 taxable value.
A typical homeowner pays more than $1,000 in school taxes each year.
The School Board will vote on adopting high school budgets that total $23.2 million. That includes $13.2 million for the general fund, which pays for teachers and annual costs of operating the schools, plus bus funds, teacher retirement, building maintenance and building construction debts.
The elementary budgets total $36.3 million. That includes $23.5 million for the general fund, plus similar bus, retirement and building funds.
The big decisions about spending and budget cuts were made months ago. The School Board agreed with Superintendent Kirk Miller's recommendations to eliminate six jobs, including several counselors, and instead to double the number of teaching coaches from four to eight, which Miller contends is the most effective way to improve student learning.
The board also agreed to hire six new elementary teachers to keep up with growing enrollment. However, Miller said as more students have signed up this summer, the district has had to hire eight teachers, and it might have to hire more.