Reckoning day for levies

Voters headed for precinct polling sites to cast ballots

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COEUR d'ALENE - Voters will decide today if the Coeur d'Alene School District will receive additional property tax dollars to help maintain education services for the next two years.

Polls are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

The district is asking voters to consider two supplemental levies on one ballot. If both measures are successfully passed, the district will receive $12.9 million per year from July 1 through June 30, 2013. A homeowner with a $200,000 home would see an estimated annual tax increase of roughly $68.

Superintendent Hazel Bauman has been meeting with parents and other community groups since January, explaining the district's need for continued and increased taxpayer support.

"I take this responsibility very seriously, most importantly the education of our 10,000-plus students, but right up there is also the welfare of our dedicated staff," Bauman said. "Both will be significantly, negatively impacted if we do not pass both parts of the levy tomorrow."

The supplemental levy mechanism set forth in Idaho Code allows districts to ask voters for permission to increase local property taxes for a set amount for two years. The supplemental, or "override" levies, enable districts to enhance their programs beyond state funding. Due to recent reductions in the amounts schools have received from the state education budget, more districts throughout Idaho are relying on supplemental levies to fill shortfalls rather than enhance programs.

The Coeur d'Alene district's general fund is down this year to $55.2 million and includes $42.6 million in state funds. In 2008, the general fund was $60 million with $50 million coming from state revenue.

Art, music and other extracurricular activities are supported by levy dollars in Coeur d'Alene, as are athletics, classroom supply, library, technology and custodial budgets.

The last two-year supplemental levy approved by Coeur d'Alene School District voters was in 2009 for $7.8 million per year. That levy expires at the end of June.

This year's ballot offers voters two options. First, a chance to vote to replace the $7.8 million levy. Voters who favor the $7.8 million replacement levy will be able to vote on a second option, a $5 million levy.

The ballot states that if the first option fails, the second option cannot pass.

Successful passage requires a simple majority, which is more than 50 percent of the vote.

This levy election marks the first school vote handled by the county elections office rather than the school district, a statewide change mandated by election consolidation legislation passed by lawmakers in 2009.

The Kootenai County Elections office has received 1,839 Coeur d'Alene School District votes by absentee ballot.

All ballots will be counted by hand for this election, as they have been by school districts in previous years.

Kootenai County Chief Deputy Clerk Pat Raffee said the deadlines the state imposed with the new election consolidation laws did not allow enough time for the county elections office to have optical scan ballots printed. The school districts met all the filing deadlines that were imposed on them, Raffee said.

The greatest change for many voters will be their polling locations. Previously, voters in school elections cast their ballots at district schools. For this election, and all future school elections, voting will take place at regularly designated county polling sites which includes some schools, churches and city halls, depending on the precinct. Voters can check for their assigned polling sites by using the Kootenai County elections office's online polling place locator tool at, www.kcgov.us/elections/search/, or they can call 446-1030.

A sample ballot is also available on the county's website.

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