“Community Services Levies Climb Since Caps Lifted”

Amy Hetzner:

Lawmaker requests audit as school districts across state raise taxes to support programs.
Five years after state legislators released them from state-imposed revenue caps, school districts’ community service tax levies have nearly tripled, reaching $49 million this year.
The rampant growth in these property taxes – earmarked for community-based activities – took place as the total levies for schools statewide rose by 22.7%.
That has raised concerns about school districts skating around revenue limits and has prompted one lawmaker to request an audit of the program.
State Rep. Debi Towns (R-Janesville) said she is curious why property taxes that pay for recreational and community activities offered by school districts have grown so much since the 2000-’01 school year. In that time, the number of school districts raising taxes for such services has doubled to 240.
“I’m not saying anyone’s misspending. I’m just saying the fund has grown tremendously, and the purpose never changed,” said Towns, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. In November, Towns called for the Legislative Audit Bureau to study how select school districts use their community service levies.

The Madison School District’s Community Service “Fund 80” has grown significantly over the past few years. Lucy Mathiak summarized Fund 80’s tax and spending increases here ($8.5M in 2005/2006, up from $3.5M in 2001/2002 – Milwaukee’s 05/06 tax levy was slightly less: $8M). Carol Carstensen notes that Fund 80 is worth our support.
Much more on Fund 80 here.