As stated in the language on the ballot recently received in the mail, two levies, Proposition 2020-9 and Proposition 2020-10, are designed to replace expiring Bellingham School District 501 (BSD) levies that were approved four years ago. They were instituted to provide support to the district’s operations and technology capital projects that are not funded, or fully funded, by the State of Washington.
It is important to note that the Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet received by all owners of taxable property within the boundaries of the BSD was printed BEFORE the latest property assessment values were completed for Bellingham. The result is that the Levy Tax Rate stated in the pamphlet was an estimate and is now not quite accurate. The estimate is a higher number than the actual figure because property values within Bellingham city limits were recently updated, and turned out to be higher than estimated by the pamphlet’s writers. Given this increase in assessed property values, Washington law requires the levy rates be lowered to achieve the same funding level target.
I wanted to better understand what was changing in terms of “renewing” the expiring school levies. My research into this topic with the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office and the Bellingham School District offices led to the following clarifications. The levy rates have now been corrected—i.e. lowered—as follows:
Proposition 2020-9 (the Operations Levy) would begin at $1.71 per $1,000 assessed value, instead of the pamphlet’s estimate of $1.85. Proposition 2020-10 (the Technology Levy) would begin at $0.92 per $1,000 assessed value as opposed to the estimated $1.00. These latest revised figures were relayed to me over the phone and you can confirm them with the Bellingham School District office. The new levy rates - if approved in the Special Election on February 11, 2020 - would take effect beginning in 2021.
If one uses the current median assessed property valuation of $375,000 for a residence in Bellingham, the levy increases that will be applicable in 2021 will amount to an additional $131 per year over what that median property owner was paying for the previously approved levies which will expire in 2020. Specifically, the new school levy figure for that median $375,000 home would increase from $855 in 2020 to $986 in 2021 – an increase of approximately 15.3%. Perhaps in this context, the requested increase might appear more reasonable, given that the cumulative rate of inflation from 2015 to 2019 was ~7.9% and the rate of inflation over the next 4 years—the life of the levies being voted on—is unknown.
I have no connection to the field of education or the Bellingham School District. I simply wanted to provide some clarity to the decision-making process for anyone interested in the details. The point of conducting this assessment was primarily to assure myself, and my fellow residents of Bellingham, that it is more accurate to look at this Special Election and its school levy request NOT as entirely NEW taxes, but rather as a continuation of past support. They are simply replacing funding in an attempt to keep up with the current needs for quality education within our schools and to perhaps get slightly ahead of the rate of inflation. I believe these investments will continue to pay dividends in building the foundation of a quality education for our local students.