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June 30, 2017 05:59 PM

'Stop The Opt Out' Gains Traction

Taxpayers are saying not so fast to an opt out, approved by the Sioux Falls School Board.  The move would bring in an extra $5 million to the District over the course of ten years.  Your taxes would not technically go up next year, but if you live in Sioux Falls, you will still have to pay more.  Now petitioners are gathering signatures to put the issue to a public vote.  

Earlier this month, the Sioux Falls School Board passed the opt out five to zero.  The school board's vice president, Kate Parker, says the money is needed because of a lot of uncertainty with federal funding for education and the state's sluggish sales tax revenues.  This does not mean a property tax hike in 2018.  For each increase of a million dollars included in the opt-out, homeowners would pay an extra 6 cents for every one-thousand dollars of their property value.  So, for example, if you live in a $150,000 home in Sioux Falls, the opt out means you will not be saving the $45 a year you would have saved under the state's property tax freeze.  

One of the petition drives set up at Active Generations on Friday afternoon.  "Stop the Opt Out" has Wanda Walling's attention.

"Well, I do not want to see my taxes go up unless they ask me and I get to vote on whether my taxes are raised," Walling said.

Walling and her husband live on a fixed income, and were looking forward to saving some money next year.

"Everything goes up and it creeps up.  If you have some notice, you can kind of plan for it," Walling said.

Walling is not the only one flocking to this table to put pen to paper.  People were lining up, concerned over how much money they will have to pay.  Lora Hubbel with Stop the Opt Out says the goal is not to go against public education, but to give voters a say.

"I've never run a petition where people call me and ask me, 'Can I sign?'  Usually you have to chase them down, explain it and kind of beg them for their signature.  Now, people are calling me," Hubbel said.  

"We've passed opt outs before and I think we've shown we've always been good stewards with the tax dollars we receive," Parker said.

There is concern over federal funding and a 0.3-percent funding increase from the state.  Parker says opting out would give more flexibility for schools should they need money in the future. 

"To be able to keep up with that trend of moving our salaries forward, it's really just to maintain our programs at the current level as well as look at maybe broadening some other programs," Parker said.  

Parker says this decision was guided by public input from a group of community and business leaders. 

"I realize people were probably looking forward to that tax relief, but it's just something we just... those are the tough decisions we have to make," Parker said. 

Hubbel says two groups are working together to gather 6,000 signatures by July 7.  4,800 valid signatures are needed.  KELOLAND News also spoke with school board member Kent Alberty on the phone.  He says there's the potential the school district won't need this money, and if that's the case, taxpayers will get the relief from the state's freeze. 



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