East-side residents should prepare their budgets for a 30 percent increase in their property tax bills come November. This more than likely won’t change, despite all the controversy surrounding this unexpected hike.
The tax increase is to cover bond payments, which amount to $1.3 million in 2010. The money pays for building improvements in the Las Vegas City Schools district.
Last year, the tax rate dropped, officials say. That’s because a surplus of more than $500,000 had been recorded in the account reserved for bond payments. That surplus was counted against what taxpayers owed bondholders. As such, tax rates declined last year.
Well, the district now says that the surplus didn’t exist, a mistake officials insist happened as the result of late audits. When the schools offered a corrected balance in the account last year, the state Public Education Department would not accept it because the deadline had passed, which caused the problem, officials said.
If that’s the case, then one wonders how the district made all of its bond payments last year. With an artificial surplus, the money had to come from somewhere.
County Treasurer Alfonso Ortiz said it came from the district’s general fund. If that were true, the district violated a basic rule of finance: Don’t rob the general fund to cover debt service.
Another issue is the role Al Clemmons, the district’s finance adviser, played in this mess. He has taken some responsibility for not keeping the district fully in the loop. Indeed, while Clemmons apparently talked to Ortiz about the problem, he apparently kept Superintendent Rick Romero in the dark. Romero said he didn’t have a clue about the tax increase until an Optic reporter informed him about it.
Not surprisingly, the board is very interested in getting to the bottom of the problem. They are getting complaints from their constituents about the tax hike.
While no one wants to play the blame game, we need to make sure our officials are held accountable and find ways to avoid this from happening again.