AZTEC — Board of Education officials are asking voters to decide on Feb. 5 whether the Aztec School District can raise taxes to fund school capital improvements. Despite the stated needs, some residents decry what they see as yet another burdensome tax increase during tough economic times.

The proposed mill levy would impose a $2 tax for every $1,000 of net taxable property value. The increase would fill the budget gap left after the district's operational funds and bond funding.

Last year the school district received $1.8 million from the mill levy, of which $1.4 million went to paying for maintenance of buildings and supplying technology for classrooms, among other things.

District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter understands the dissenting voices and wants to remind the community that the levy represents a renewal, not a new tax. However, the proposal does include a small increase in the mill levy.

"The Aztec community has always supported the mill levy," Carpenter said. "We don't take any increase lightly but we have to continue to keep our schools as well-served and supported as possible."

Voters have supported the added tax in prior years, but the ongoing burden of a struggling economy has soured some people's willingness to again increase taxes.

Denise Nicholas, a Tea Party activist who lives in Aztec, believes the levy is a burden. Supporting the measure would legitimize raising taxes on struggling homeowners.


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"We don't need a third tax hike in three years," Nicholas said. "In the last 10 years, my property tax has gone up, up, up and the more they charge, the more we'll pay. The taxes always go in one direction and that's in an economy where putting food on the table is a daily challenge for many in the community."

Last month, Nicholas decided to make her frustration with the levy known. She printed up hundreds of flyers and temporarily interrupted her retirement to spend her days walking up and down Aztec spreading her message against the tax increase.

"I want people to be informed of the issue and remind them that while the electoral college might make their votes practically irrelevant, voting locally can make a big impact," Nicholas said. "The reception I've had has been almost entirely positive."

Flora Vista resident Ashley Lindsay agrees with Nicholas and would like to see greater fiscal discipline from the district.

"I don't mind paying my taxes - I was for the recent remodel of a school building - but the district needs to learn how to live within a budget and not exceed it," Lindsay said. "That's what everybody else has been doing through this recession."

Nicholas' flyers were seen in some storefront windows, but many business owners expressed ambivalence toward the levy rather than an outright rejection of the increase.

All the needs covered by the levy, from building and grounds maintenance to the purchase of desks and computers to the maintenance of heating and cooling systems are necessities and requirements, Carpenter said.

The amount of the actual increase is nominal, a view that Manning admits is often overshadowed by the very presence of the word "increase" on the ballot.

For a home valued at $120,000, the net tax value is $40,000. The proposed mill levy increase from the current $1.886 to $2 would mean a tax increase from $75.44 to $80 on such a property, a difference of $4.56, said Ryan Manning, the district's director of finance.

"Because of the bad economy, the money isn't coming in, so we need property owners to help make up for it," Manning said. "The increase is not much, but it still is, admittedly, an increase."

If the mill levy proposal fails, a property owner's tax bill would be reduced by the amount of the current mill levy, about $1.88 per $1,000 of taxable property, Manning said.

"One of the biggest needs is providing the technology for students to help them be successful," Manning said. "We have been holding off buying these things, stretching our budget as thinly as possible, but because of a drop in oil-and-gas revenues, we need to account for that."

Manning said the levy, if approved, would for the first time benefit the district's charter school, Mosaic Academy.

"Preparing our students for the challenges of the new century is a worthy investment to make, even when times are tough," Carpenter said. "We hope that the voters will make an informed decision and invite any to contact the district with any questions they have."

For more information, contact Aztec Municipal Schools at 505-334-9474.