Hospital district, local school district levies on Feb. 13 ballot

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

A levy for Douglas County Hospital District 2 and levies for Orondo, Palisades and Waterville school districts will go before voters Feb. 13. Ballots for the special election will be mailed out on Jan. 26.

The hospital district levy, which provides funding for the operation of Waterville Clinic and Waterville Ambulance, usually appears on the November ballot. Because it did not appear on last fall’s ballot, the district will not be levying taxes for 2018. The amount levied in 2019 will be $70,000, which is the same as the amount levied in past years.

It would require collection of approximately $0.36 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Because of the solution that the state Legislature developed to fully fund public education in compliance with the decision in McCleary v. Washington, local school levies will be capped at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value.

The amount is less than the current levies for all three of the districts and significantly less than the current amounts collected by Waterville and Orondo school districts. Waterville School District’s levy amount for the levy ending in 2018 was $4.28 per $1,000 assessed value with a collection of $800,000 per year. Orondo School District’s was $2.58 per $1,000 assessed value for a total of $938,000 per year.

Because the law is on the Legislature’s agenda for 2018, school boards and administrators faced a good deal of uncertainty in coming up with their levy amounts for next month’s election.

Waterville School District Superintendent Cathi Nelson said that her district decided to stay with the $1.50 per assessed $1,000 value and run a one-year levy. This will amount to $298,300 in 2019.

If the Legislature makes a change to the current law, the district could request an increased amount during the 2019 special election.

“There are a lot of unknowns at this time,” Nelson said.

Districts will receive increased funds from the state to compensate for the lower levy amounts, but the districts will not have the same amount of discretion in how they use the funds, Nelson said.

Waterville School District levies have paid for unfunded staff, technology, food services, library support, extracurricular programs, and maintenance and operations of the building.

“We have to pay for the same things with a lot less money,” Nelson said of the levy that will take effect in 2019 if approved by voters.

The message Nelson wanted to give voters is that it is still very important to the district that the levy passes. She also said that because the levy is so much reduced, even if it passes, the district will need to make tough decisions on how to cut expenses in order to stay within budget.

The Orondo levy measure is a two-year replacement maintenance and operation levy projected at $1.50 per thousand of assessed value. A total of $584,079 will be collected in both 2019 and 2020.

The levy is to help fund classroom supplies and materials, preschool, library books, certificated and support personnel expenses, the technology program, food services, maintenance and facilities costs and utilities. Since Orondo School District only runs through eighth grade, the money also will cover funds that the district sends to Eastmont, Lake Chelan and Waterville school districts for students sent to those high schools.

Orondo School Superintendent Ismael Vivanco said that the district is hoping that some of the over $350,000 difference between this levy and the past one can be covered by new money that the state will be providing. However, he echoed Nelson’s concern that the state money will be earmarked for particular programs and may not be able to be used in the same way that the local levy money is being used.

“We’ll just have to see how things roll out and any changes that we need to make to balance our funds,” Vivanco said. “The things we’ve been doing in the past, we may not be able to keep doing them the way we’ve been doing them.”

Vivanco said that the district pays about $260,000 per year to other school districts for its high school students, which comes from levy money. He doesn’t yet know if the state will make any changes to this requirement.

Palisades School District, to which Vivanco also serves as superintendent, went a different route than Waterville and Orondo school districts, requesting approximately $2.54 per $1,000 assessed value in a four-year levy. The amounts to be collected are $149,000 in 2019 and 2020, and $151,980 in 2021 and 2022.

Vivanco said the school district, which only runs through fifth grade, also pays other districts for the students it sends to them. They had 10 fifth-graders a couple of years ago, representing a big increase in payments the district makes. The district typically only has two or three students per grade level.

Vivanco said the school district is hoping that legislators will adjust the law to allow for the higher levy amount, but if they don’t the district will only be able to collect $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value, rather than the $2.54 per $1,000 stated in the levy proposition.

Vivanco said the previous levy was a two-year levy that collected $1.97 per $1,000 assessed value, which amounted to $106,000 in 2017 and $108,000 in 2018.

The new levy is designed to cover increased payments for the students studying in other districts, the food service program, grounds and maintenance, technology and staffing.