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APS property tax hike doesn’t make the grade

Has Albuquerque Public Schools merited a 20 percent increase in your property taxes? Voters can answer that question during a mail-in election beginning Jan. 8 when ballots will be mailed to all registered voters in the APS school district. The ballots are due Feb. 5.

Depending on where you live in the Albuquerque Metro area, there are seven to nine governmental entities that collect portions of your property taxes. APS is one of them and, according to the Bernalillo County Assessor’s website, it presently collects 25 percent of your property taxes each year. APS is asking voters to support three measures, one asks for a nearly 20 percent increase in APS’ share of property taxes for the next six years, from 10.473 mills to 12.450 mills. Additionally, APS is asking for a renewal of a 2-mill levy that will generate $190 million and a $200 million bond issue that is not paid for with property taxes. Materials circulated by APS say a “yes” vote results in a 4.7 percent increase to your overall tax bill, but the increase in the APS share is over 19 percent. Be mindful that not one penny of these monies are for operating costs like teacher’s salaries; these tax dollars are used for APS capital costs.

The average $240,000 home in the Albuquerque Metro area currently pays $3,407 in annual property taxes; the APS share is $851 a year. According to TaxRates.org, Bernalillo County already has one of the highest property taxes in the United States when considered against median income.

According to APS, the rate increase will add around $160/year to your property taxes. Remember, every year the assessed value of your home increases 3 percent, and your property taxes are determined by multiplying the (taxable) value times the mill rate. After six years – should the mill rate increase pass – the annual property tax paid to APS on that $240,000 home will be $1,163. That increase of $312 is nearly twice the $160 a year promised by APS.

For those of us who support APS or have children and grandchildren attending public schools, including charters, and want to ensure they have high quality safe and smart facilities, there are four issues that raise concerns:

1. The student population at APS has decreased by 2,000 students in the past year; shouldn’t APS’ capital needs and costs be decreasing instead of increasing?

2. There are thousands of APS students in a virtual or blended learning environment with lower capital needs than students in a traditional classroom setting, and this is a growing trend. Shouldn’t this fact lead to decreased capital costs?

3. According to National Education Association (NEA) data, New Mexico spends more on capital than other states, over $2,000 a student. In Texas it’s about $1,500, in Oklahoma and Utah about $1,200, in Colorado around $1,000 and about $750 a student in Arizona.

4. Material and labor costs are rising, and APS leaders say their average building cost is approximately $311/square foot even though data from the Greater Albuquerque Board of Realtors suggests the average commercial project is 15 to 20 percent lower. The cost of the spectacular new APS Professional Development Complex at 3315 Louisiana Boulevard NE is projected to be $466/square foot. Do the high costs of the wonderful new APS buildings reflect voter’s wishes?

Finally, this proposed property tax increase will significantly affect housing and rental affordability. The average price on a home in the Albuquerque Metro area has increased 9.4 percent since January 2018 and the average mortgage interest rate 13 percent during that time. Plus, homeowner insurance rates are increasing significantly for various reasons including crime and hail and wind damage to roofs. These increases, plus higher property taxes, all factor into housing and rental affordability in the Metro area.

There are numerous reasons to support APS and our public education system. However, there are critical questions about the high cost and scope of APS capital projects and the impact on taxpayers. And, with fewer students and more online, why does the capital budget continue to increase and is the current oversight what voters expect from public agencies like APS?

Let’s send a message to the APS administration and Board of Education demanding rigorous management of our property tax dollars and overall greater accountability from district leaders by voting no on the mill levy increases.

Mark Boitano owns a real estate business.

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