ECISD boardmembers are divided in their opinions regarding a contentious decision to raise property taxes the district calls necessary to continue making debt payments on its 2008 bond issue.
Trustees who oppose the tax increase have also been vocal about the issue, saying the decision to raise taxes "goes outside of the realm what we (Board) are telling the public."
"I'm going to stick to my position of what we originally told the public we were going to do," said Robert Peña, who along with trustee Jaime Chavana were the only two on the board to vote against the two-cent property tax hike at the Board's regular meeting on Tuesday Sept. 14.
The 2010-2011 budget was approved by the board in a 6-1 vote last month, with Peña being the only dissenting vote. The tax rate was voted on by the board in its first September meeting and was adopted in a 5-2 vote with Peña and Chavana casting the dissenting votes.
The board passed an increase from $1.2198 to $1.2398 per $100 of tax valuation. The new tax rate will add an additional two cents to the school system’s interest and sinking fund, which will be used to help pay off $217 million it owes from the bond issue passed in 2008.
Under the new tax rate, the district can collect about $908.44 for the average residence in Edinburg, that figure is an increase of $26.82 compared with last year's levy.
"I can understand that this is an election year and that promises have been made, and people do not want to look bad, but the fact of the matter is that the bond passed, the schools are being built, and the bonds have to be paid as we all agreed to pay them back," said board President Omar Palacios.
The board accepted and voted to support the recommendations of a Citizens Bond Oversight Advisory Committee to call for a nearly $112 million school bond election in 2008. An additional $37.7 million proposition was also approved to convert 1998 bonds to 2008 bonds, which would reduce the tax rate and interest rate in order to save the taxpayers $2 million, Palacios said.
"The bond was overwhelmingly passed by the Edinburg community because the Bond Oversight Committee worked meticulously with the board of trustees and Dr. Miguel de los Santos, financial adviser to the district, to ensure that the public was well informed of what would need to happen before the bond issue election, and after the election," Palacios said.
Trustee Peña took issue with what he considered incremental tax increases every year since the bond passed. The tax rate was raised by .07 cents in Sept. 2008, then an additional 3 cents and 2 cents in 2009 and 2010, respectively
"These are questions I asked from the superintendent, I asked him 'It was my understanding that, when the bond issue was passed in 2008, it was alluded to the public that the tax rate would only be increased by .07 cents'," Peña said. "Their (board) answer is, well it's to cover the bond debt. But, then my contention is 'What are you not telling me?'. If we had to exceed the .07 cents, were bond projections incorrect or not."
ECISD administrators presented the board with tax rate options in four public budget workshops last summer. The board agreed that it did not want to burden the taxpayers with any more than that they had been told they would pay in tax increases to pay the bonds, Palacios said.
"The school board is fully conscious of the economy and for the last two years has directed administration to tighten its spending without jeopardizing the education of every student in the district," Palacios said.