Phoenix homeowners question new property tax bill

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Many school districts are trying to make up for having less money by charging property owners more. But a dramatic increase is taking a toll on the small business owner you're about to meet, who just moved into this neighborhood and had no idea his tax bill would be so high.

The signs are popping up on street corners across town. School districts, desperate for money, are asking you to vote 'yes' on bonds to increase funding.

But for the Roosevelt School District, bond money wasn't enough. Now, everyone in the district is facing a major increase in their property tax bill.

“I was shocked when I got the tax bill,” homeowner Michael Davis said.

Davis closed on his dream home near South Mountain in August. He actually expected his property taxes to decrease, but instead, he'll be paying much more.

According to his October statement, taxes for Phoenix High Schools and Community Colleges decreased, but taxes for Roosevelt Elementary Schools shot up by more than 75%.

“I think it is unconcsionable to, even in good times, to have an increase like that, let alone in times like this,” Davis said.

Davis called the Maricopa County Treasurer, then the Roosevelt School District for an explanation, and was told they would get back to him. But he says that never happened, so he e-mailed 3 On Your Side.

“It leads me to believe there is some horrendous mismanagement, there has to (be). You can't have that kind of increase in these times,” Davis said.

The school district declined our request for an interview, but did send a statement saying the increases are because the state has not paid its normal school aid to Roosevelt, and that the bad economy has hurt tax collections.

The explanation comes just weeks after a state audit found the district was overpaid $830,000 in state aid because it didn't provide sufficient instructional hours.

The audit also found district staff racked up $29,000 worth of inappropriate cell phone charges, and says, “The district's lack of oversight over their over its fixed assets leaves them vulnerable to theft or misuse.”

“I find it extremely maddening,” Davis said.

Davis says he realizes the state's budget is in disarray, and while he supports school funding, he doesn't expect taxpayers to have to make up for the district's mistakes.

“Yes we need to have good schools but we don't need 74% increases,” he said, “We are acting responsibly watching our budget. and here our elected officials... our schools... are acting completely irresponsibly.”

Current property taxes are based on 2007 home valuations.

Tax bills follow valuations by 18 months so homeowners can appeal their valuations, but you have to do it within 60 days from the time your valuation is mailed. Click here for more information on the appeal process.
Click here to view the complete state audit of Roosevelt Elementary.
Statement from Roosevelt School District:

The Roosevelt School District has astutely managed its financial affairs.  Thus, the public should be concerned about the apparent property tax increases.  Why have things gone up when the District is doing such a good job fiscally?  This statement explains the current property tax levies being issued by the Roosevelt School District.

There is a normal cycle of ups and downs in the process of managing any school district's operational budget.  If Roosevelt has more cash on hand, then the levies go down.  If the District has less cash on hand, then the levies must go up.  Over the last 3 years Roosevelt's levies for $100,000 of assessed property were $4.60  for 2009, $2.91 for 2008, and $3.20 for 2007, respectively.  Our expectation for next year is that the levies will again go down, and the long term trend will remain stable.  Thus, home owners property taxes will eventually be reduced.

Two types of factors affect  Roosevelt's operational cash flow, and thus the District's ability to reduce or increase the tax levies.  First, some things are not under the District's control.  Second, other things can be controlled directly by Roosevelt.  In any event, the school District must balance its budget during each fiscal year.  Two significant factors not under the Roosevelt School District's control are directly driving the operational budget into a deficit during this fiscal cycle:  the State's budget and the general economy.

First, the State of Arizona has not balanced its fiscal budget for 2009.  The Legislature and the Governor have not been able to come to an agreement as required by the Arizona Constitution.  As a result, Arizona has not paid its normal school aid to Roosevelt.  Consequently, the School District is short about $5.5 million it was expecting to receive, which represents 50% of its current budget deficit.