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Enumclaw, White River voters to decide levies

Now is not the time to fail a maintenance and operations levy.

That’s one of the messages levy committee chairpersons for the Enumclaw and White River school districts are trying to get out to voters as they ask for public support of four-year levies that will appear on the Feb. 9 ballot.

After the more than $2 million budget blow each district took last year, and with the governor’s preliminary state budget preparing districts for another financial hit, the failure of a levy which supplies 18 to 22 percent of a district’s budget could spell disaster.

“I don’t think it’s overstating it to say it would be catastrophic,” Enumclaw levy committee chair Suzanne Lewis said.

“It’s just a frightening proposition to have to think about,” said White River levy chair Carolyn Norris, which is not calling its levy by the traditional maintenance and operation title, but tagging it as a replacement levy for schools, staff and operations. “The levy is 22 percent of the White River budget. That would be just painful.”

Maintenance and operation levies allow districts to continue programs and services at their current levels, bridging the gap between state funding and the actual cost of meeting the educational needs of students. Maintenance and operation levies pay for teaching staff, additional instructional programs, textbooks, athletics, extra-curricular activities, technology, security and transportation.

Ballots for the elections should hit residential mail boxes Friday. For Enumclaw, this election is mail-in only. Buckley voters will have the option to post their ballot or vote in person at a local polling station. Ballots must be returned to elections or postmarked by Feb. 9, Election Day. A simple majority is needed to pass a levy.

Boosters preach that maintenance and operation levies are not new taxes. Both the Enumclaw and White River school district have existing levies that end in 2010.

Enumclaw will be asking voters to approve collections of $9.2 million in 2011, with a final collection of $10.3 million in 2014 at a rate of $3.05 per $1,000 of assessed property value. In 2002, voters aproved a levy rate of $3.14 per $1,000 and, in 2006, voters approved a rate of $2.96.

A $3.05 rate equates to $915 annually or $76.25 per month for owners of property assessed at $300,000 home.

The White River School District will ask voters to approve $8.2 million for collection in 2011, with an increase of $200,000 each year, based on a 2 percent increase in assessed valuation, through 2014. The rate would be approximately $3.12 per $1,000 dollars of assessed value. The district can only collect the dollar amount requested, for example, in the first year $8.2 million. The $3.12 is an estimate based on assessed value and could slightly increase or decrease depending on yearly assessments.

In Enumclaw, Lewis, Tina McGann, Bob Horn and a group of supporters are working to get the word out to voters. Lewis was recently busy overseeing a group of volunteers who were preparing a mailing. The district will also use automated calls and picketing to get the “Vote Yes” sentiment out to voters.

Lewis is worried people will forget to mail in their ballot or not want to pay for postage. King County will not supply Enumclaw or Black Diamond with drop boxes for this election. The nearest drop boxes will be in Tukwila and downtown Seattle.

Lewis said the community consistently rallies for causes. She wants to see people support the levy with higher turnout numbers than in the past. Enumclaw’s capital levy one year ago passed with a 53 percent “yes” vote with a little more than 6,000 voters.

Norris would also like to see a large turnout to support White River’s schools. She and her group have been making presentations to PTAs, putting up road signs and sending out mailings. The district can provide information, but cannot tell folks how to vote. The levy committee takes on that task as well as raising money to cover the costs like mailings and signs.

“We just don’t want them to be complacent,” Norris said of voters. She added this is one of the few, if only taxes, where money stays in the community. “It’s the one place where you can really see what your tax dollars are doing and there are so many good things happening in the district.”

She noted the strides the district is making in student education and the national praise the district has been receiving for its work, adding, “It’s important to keep that going.”

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