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AISD may restore historic landmark tax exemption

Monday, February 28, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Despite a budget shortfall of approximately $100 million and the threat of job cuts and school closures, as the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees meets tonight they will be considering reinstating tax breaks on historic properties. The proposal is part of the preliminary FY2012 budget drawn up by District Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley-Abram.


That budget, which includes cutting more than 1100 jobs, was posted on AISD’s web site on Friday.


The board voted last August to eliminate the historic landmark tax break after determining that doing so could save $1.77 million for local and statewide education. If the board approves the preliminary budget as is, the district will once again offer a 50 percent tax exemption on owner-occupied historic buildings and a 25 percent exemption on income-producing buildings.


When the district voted last August to eliminate the program, AISD General Counsel Mel Wexler wrote in a letter to supporters of the tax break, “Under these circumstances and in light of the fact that most school districts throughout the state do not grant these exemptions even in better economic times, the district has eliminated this long-standing exemption (for the coming year).”


But historic landmark advocates have argued that doing away with the program would have minimal financial impact on AISD revenue because of the state’s Robin Hood recapture rule, which sends a majority of the city’s property tax revenue to needier school districts. 


According to city figures, of the estimated $1.8 million revenue that would be saved as a result of eliminating the tax breaks, only a little less than $100,000 could be used for the district’s budget and operations. $1.14 million would be earmarked for recapture, and approximately $213,000 would go to paying down the district’s debt.


Under the district’s 2010-2011 salary schedule, a first-year teacher makes between $42,000 and $51,000 a year.


Other “highlights” of the preliminary budget include: increasing class size by two students in grades pre-K through four, reducing summer school programming to mandatory requirements, reducing athletics by 5 percent, and the possibility of two unpaid furlough days, a reduction in leave days, and the elimination of bonuses.


All told, the preliminary budget proposes reductions/savings totaling $63 million.


In Fact Daily made repeated attempts to speak to CFO Conley-Abram about the proposed budget on Friday, but she was unavailable for comment.


The district will be holding “community conversations” on the budget on March 24 at Reagan High School and on March 31 at Bowie High School.

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