Property taxes are one source of revenue for school districts, and one which school district boards have the authority to adjust as they see fit under special circumstances. The legal steps for doing so in Arizona are outlined in the Arizona Revised Statutes, specifically section 15-905.01.
This section first explains how the truth in taxation base limit is to be determined. Then states that for any fiscal year in which a school district governing board budgets an amount that is higher than the truth in taxation base limit, levies any amount for adjacent ways, or levies any amount for liabilities in excess of the school district budget, the school district must either publish a notice of a public hearing in a newspaper (with defined specifications), or mail the truth in taxation notice (with the same defined specifications) to all registered voters in the district at least ten but not more than twenty days before the date of the hearing.
A.R.S. §15-905.01, subsection B, paragraph 3 states “In addition to publishing the truth in taxation notice under paragraph 1 of this subsection or mailing the notice under paragraph 2 of this subsection, the governing board shall issue a press release containing the truth in taxation notice to all newspapers of general circulation in the school district.”
Fredonia Moccasin Unified School District (FMUSD) held their own Truth in Taxation Hearing the evening of July 12, 2023. Prior to the meeting, the district mailed a Notice of Tax Increase stating the proposed increase “will cause Fredonia-Moccasin Unified School District’s primary property taxes on a $100,000 home to be $233. Without the tax increase, the total taxes that would be owed would have been $145.26.” The exterior of the notice was a plain white piece of paper, folded in half, addressed to the current box holder, with no return address or markings to indicate its official nature. As for complying with the legal requirement to “issue a press release containing the truth in taxation notice to all newspapers of general circulation in the school district,” FMUSD failed to do so and as such appears to be in violation of A.R.S. §15-905.01.
Tensions ran high the night of the Truth in Taxation hearing. Technology failed FMUSD Superintendent Dorene Mudrow, rendering her power point presentation inoperable. Instead, Mudrow verbally presented a few district highlights and achievements, and hope for increased enrollment, before opening the floor to questions and comments.
Those present, mostly local business and property owners, overwhelmingly objected to the property tax increase. One commented on rising interest rates, inflation and property values. Property owners are already paying more taxes based on inflated property prices, and raising property taxes makes it even harder for families to buy a home than it already is.
The school was compared to a sinking ship – rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic isn’t going to save the ship. Increasing taxes, to buy fancier deck chairs to rearrange, isn’t going to save the ship. The district needs to seriously consider other options instead of throwing money at the same old ideas. One option, that has been strongly opposed by the FMUSD school board and administration, is to pursue a working relationship with Kane County School District that would allow FMUSD students to attend school across the border. If students were allowed to attend school across the border, there is a likelihood more families would stay in Fredonia.
The idea presented by FMUSD administration that people are flocking to move to Fredonia and that enrollment is going to increase was refuted by a local realtor, who explained that families are scared away by the school performance and tax rates.
Statistics from the U.S. Census showing the alarming decrease of young families and the increase in households over the age of 65 in Fredonia were shared. It was pointed out the town is dying - people are leaving and taking their children elsewhere for education.
When Mudrow said that the school district has ideas for the future if they “can’t start getting enrollment,” members of the audience interjected and said the school needs to make changes now, stating “You will not be getting more enrollment,” “If I had kids I would not send them here,” and “Nobody wants their kid to be your experiment.”
The Fredonia Town Mayor, who is also the FMUSD Assistant Accountant, shouted at those who expressed displeasure with the school district, “Move! Move out! Go! My kids graduated from here! If you don’t like it, leave!”
After more comments regarding the futileness of bleeding a turnip dry with taxes, to which it seemed the school board turned a deaf ear as two members appeared to privately converse almost the entirety of the hearing, people began to trickle out. FMUSD administration admitted to already deciding to increase the tax rate, regardless of the public’s opinion.
Following the Truth in Taxation Hearing, the FMUSD governing board voted in favor of the property tax increase for the period of one year.