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Utah Taxpayers Association says yes to Proposition 2 in Orem, stays neutral on Alpine School District bond

By Genelle Pugmire - | Oct 4, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Members of the public listen to a presentation on the Orem School District Feasibility Study on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Orem Library Hall.

With less than two weeks to go before ballots hit the mailboxes, Orem residents are pushing to the finish line.

In the last week, the Utah Taxpayers Association has released two statements which could effect Utah County voters. The taxpayers association is a political watchdog for taxpayers in Utah. They are a nonprofit group, considered fiscally conservative. that receives funds for their work by individuals, businesses and groups.

On Sept. 26, the taxpayers association announced they are “neutral” on the Alpine School District’s $595 million bond issue on the ballot. A neutral stand is considered a positive for the bond.

“This will be the largest issuance of school district bond debt ever in Utah. While the amount of the proposal is staggering, at $595 million, Alpine is unique in that it is the largest school district in Utah and is experiencing rapid growth at the same time,” said Rusty Cannon, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. “The size of the district combined with the many needs for new construction in the hyper growth areas as well as renovation needs for older buildings in the more established areas of the district combines for a large amount of taxpayer dollars needed to meet the needs of the district.”

The taxpayers association notes the innovative strategy ASD uses to stagger its debt issuance over a number of years providing protection to taxpayers that results in less impact.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Mayor Dave Young listens to a presentation on the Orem School District Feasibility Study on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Orem Library Hall.

The association also believes the bond will not increase the tax rate, but that statement could be misleading to voters. It believes the correct explanation of the proposal is, “that without the issuance of this new debt, taxes would be lowered in upcoming years. If this debt is issued according to the plan, the overall tax burden on district taxpayers should remain approximately the same as now going forward.”

According to their statement, taxes would be steady for Orem residents whether or not the bond passes.

On Monday, the organizations came out in favor of Proposition 2, Orem’s potential split away from Alpine School District to have their own city school system.

“After extensive research and analysis, the Utah Taxpayers Association wanted to provide the taxpayers of Orem with accurate information that will hopefully inform them as they vote on Proposition 2,” Cannon said.

Information for the association’s review came from the Utah County Assessor, the Utah State Tax Commission, the Utah State Board of Education and the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst. The same sources were recognized in the Orem Feasibility Study from DEC LLC, the vendor who completed the study.

Courtesy Bunny Schmidt

A campaign sign promoting a yes vote for Proposition 2, a ballot measure asking residents whether Orem should separate from Alpine School District.

Both the DEC feasibility study and the Utah Taxpayers Association came to the same conclusion, that a school district was feasible for the city.

While it appears some of the information comes directly from the DEC feasibility study, Cannon said, “We did the research ourselves.”

Cannon indicated that he met with groups both for and against Proposition 2.

“StrongerTogether claims that, if Orem were to be split into a new school district, property taxes would go up by 56%. This is patently false,” Cannon said. “This claim is based on inaccurate calculations which suggest that Alpine School District subsidizes Orem school costs. These calculations are inaccurate for several reasons: First, they do not include all sources of funding that flow to a school district, which gives a distorted view of reality; Second, they initially relied on data that was mistakenly taken from 2017, and have since had to correct that claim.”

He added that, by examining property values and estimated state and federal funding, “it is reasonable to conclude that an Orem school district would very likely have sufficient revenue to support itself without the need for a property tax increase.”

Courtesy Bunny Schmidt

A flier indicating the official position of Orem's three PTA councils regarding Proposition 2.

The statement also notes that, if the cities of Lindon and Vineyard were added to the new district, the tax base would be even stronger.

The association notes the proposed Orem school district boundary has a robust tax base, leading taxpayers to ask one question.

That is, if the claims by “StrongerTogether” were correct in that the remainder of Alpine School District subsidizes Orem to the tune of millions of dollars per year. “Why would they so vociferously oppose letting the Orem tax base form its own district?” Cannon asked.

The association argues that the vocal opposition leads them to believe the opposite of StrongerTogether’s claim is true.

“Therefore, Orem taxpayers are justified in seeking more local control over their contribution to education, and the Utah Taxpayers Association urges Orem taxpayers to vote in favor of Proposition 2,” the Taxpayers Association writes.

StrongerTogether released a statement Tuesday sharing their dismay at the Taxpayer’s Association decision.

“We are highly concerned with the opinion given by the Utah Taxpayers Association on Orem’s Proposition 2. That concern is compounded by the fact that they have not provided any data to challenge our claims of a significant tax increase. Our data comes from Alpine School District’s audited and publicly available reports, while the taxpayers association appears to rely on unverified claims of the pro-split group. The claim that we left out revenue sources is actually a fundamental problem with the pro-split numbers. Specifically, they included over $18 million in revenues from pass-through funds (money collected and immediately transferred to outside entities) related to Charter Schools and Tax Increment Financing – funds that are not available to our schools.

“The facts remain unchanged.

  1.  Orem, on its own as a smaller district, will be more costly and have fewer resources.
  2. Orem schools receive significant funding as part of Alpine School District that will be lost if Orem forms its own district.
  3. Our teachers and administrators know this. 84% of surveyed teachers said they would try to leave Orem.
  4. Parents and others currently involved in our schools strongly oppose a split from Alpine School District. Over 90% of surveyed PTA members oppose an Orem-only split. The Alpine Education Association voted to oppose the split.
  5. Programs and services will be severely disrupted for years to come.”

“Furthermore, Alpine School District supports the right of communities to decide. But StrongerTogether is a grassroots effort of local teachers, parents, and respected members of our community urging Orem residents to protect our schools and our children. Vote against the absolute folly of an Orem-only district. Vote NO on proposition 2.”

In response to voting, on the bond and property taxes, Orem Mayor David Young released this statement Tuesday:

“A vote for or against a new Orem School District is a personal decision. I completely respect that and encourage people to vote their conscience. My concern is when one side puts out extremely inaccurate and misleading information that makes it difficult for people to make an informed decision.”

“The actual numbers are important to understand. Over 20 years Orem Taxpayers paid $174 Million Dollars that was sent to other cities and NOT used to benefit Orem schools. With ASD’s new bond, Orem taxpayers will be responsible to pay $116 Million Dollars but Orem Schools will only receive $20 Million or 17% of what taxpayers pay in. Why would the citizens of Orem choose to continue to make this mistake?”

“The nonprofit, nonpartisan Utah Taxpayers Association mission since 1923 has been to insure that voters have accurate information on which to base their decisions. I appreciate that they listened to both sides and concluded there will be no additional tax increase. In addition, they urge Orem taxpayers to Vote Yes on Prop 2,” Young said.

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