October 16, 2009
Dan Weist

When Utah voters head to the polls Nov. 3, the Utah Taxpayers Association will be advising them that the long-standing watchdog group supports the effort of two school districts to pass tax proposals.

But that support does not extend to the other tax issue on the ballot — the one for the Davis School District.

“We felt it best to remain neutral on the proposed bond,” said Royce Van Tassell, the taxpayers association vice president.

The $250 million bond referendum would pay for renovations at three Davis district schools, construction of four new schools and a facility for special education.

The district reports it is growing at a pace of nearly 1,000 students a year and has held more than 200 meetings within the community to explain the reasons why it wants voter support for the proposal.

But Van Tassell said that after weighing the issues, the most his group would do is hold to neutrality.

“Davis School District is experiencing significant growth and they will need additional facilities to accommodate that growth,” said Van Tassell. “On the other hand, it is a significant tax increase.”

District officials disagree with Van Tassell on the issue of describing the Davis proposal as a tax increase. But Craig Poll, a Davis School District assistant superintendent, believes the stance by the Utah Taxpayers Association is a plus for the district.

“In Nebo, they (the tax group) went against the bond and it almost lost,” Poll said Thursday at a public meeting on the bond at Syracuse High School.

School officials argue that a district-sponsored survey shows support for the plan.

“Nobody has come out against the bond,” Poll added.

The Davis School District is passing out material that shows the bond vote would not increase the tax rate.

Based on previous voter-supported bond issues, Davis County property tax rate is due to decrease in 2011, and continue to do so gradually.

The district argues the new ballot plan would keep the tax rate steady and not increase it over current levels.

“Similar payments will be made for a longer time,” notes a recent district newsletter. But the taxpayer group, based in Salt Lake City and founded in 1922, says schools, cities and counties typically make that argument for election proposals.

“They just fundamentally misunderstand or mischaracterize what constitutes a tax increase under Utah law,” said Van Tassell.

The taxpayers association has taken a stand to support the current Granite and Duchesne school ballot proposals to borrow money to build or renovate buildings.

Davis voters will make their own choice this fall, the fourth vote on a Davis School District bond issue since 1997.