Tax panels hear from educators

Nevada educators warned lawmakers Tuesday that a plan to curb property taxes would deal a blow to public school budgets and slow building of new schools.

Their warnings did little to sway legislators determined to give homeowners a break on their property tax bills this session.

"Few people want more money for education than I do," Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, a likely candidate for governor in 2006, said at a joint meeting of the Senate Taxation Committee and the Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure.

"But I can tell you there's going to be property tax relief. We just need to find the right vehicle."

Perkins' initial plan was a $50,000 exemption on a property's assessed value, but several experts have said that could cripple governments in rural counties where property values are low.

"Exemptions in rural counties, in Esmeralda, in Pershing, you may wipe out half of the assessed value depending how those are imposed and how those are written," said Martin Johnson, a bonding consultant who advises Nevada school districts.

Perkins' said he's already asking his staff to rework the proposal.

"We're looking at a way to hold the rural counties harmless and still provide some sort of exemption," Perkins said after Tuesday's meeting.

School officials described property taxes as a stable and reliable source of funding that has kept pace with the growth in student populations.

"We think it's vitally important you recognize that there's no relief in immediate sight for growth in enrollment in Clark county," said Walt Rulffes, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District.

The officials said the current proposals would affect school districts differently, since funding sources vary from county to county, and would likely have a greater impact on construction projects than on operating budgets.

School districts are guaranteed a basic amount of support by the state. If the county lacks enough tax revenue to meet the level, the state makes up the difference. However, because of the way some taxes are categorized, school officials said districts wouldn't be guaranteed a total reimbursement of revenue lost due to a property tax cap.

A 6 percent cap on property taxes would cost the Washoe County School District between $1.1 to $1.7 million yearly, said Gary Kraemer, the chief financial officer for the district.

Freezing taxes at 2004 level, a proposal backed by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, would cost $4 million, Kraemer added.


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