Millard Public Schools Superintendent Jim Sutfin told the Douglas County Board on Tuesday that lower-than-expected increases in property valuations in the Douglas County part of the Millard district caused budget problems for the school last year.

Sutfin didn’t go so far as to say Douglas County should raise property valuations more this year. But he implied that there could be more budget cuts if valuations don’t go up enough.

The appearance was an unusual step for a school superintendent to take. It came not only before county assessors have set final tax valuations for this year but also before school districts and other taxing entities have set their budgets and 2018 tax rates.

Sutfin might have been attempting to influence any debate that may arise over 2018 property valuations in Douglas County, or seeking to supply a rationale if the Millard school district cuts spending or raises its tax levy this year.

Douglas County Assessor Diane Battiato posted preliminary 2018 valuations earlier this month. It will be months before they become final.

Last year, Douglas County Board members pressured Battiato to reduce valuation increases after homeowners and other residential property tax payers complained that they were too high. Battiato trimmed the increases.

Sutfin said Millard school district officials had expected that property valuations in the district would go up a total of 8.15 percent last year, based on preliminary valuations in January 2017. Based on that, the Millard school board was prepared to reduce its tax rate, Sutfin told the board.

But after the Douglas County controversy, the valuations went up only 2.67 percent in the Millard school district last year, Sutfin said. In the Douglas County portion of the district, the valuations increased just 1.89 percent, while valuations in the Sarpy County part of the district rose by 6.47 percent, Sutfin said.

That, along with a reduction in state aid, contributed to the Millard school district’s decision to ask voters for a tax levy override in 2017, Sutfin said. The voters approved the override.

Sutfin noted that Sarpy’s valuation increase has been driven in part by new development, but he said the district is beginning to run out of land for new development.

Sutfin also gave the County Board statistics implying that Douglas County’s valuation ratio — near the low end of the state’s required 92 to 100 percent of market value — hurts the Millard school district’s state aid. He said he expects state aid to the Millard school district to decrease this year.

Sutfin did not suggest that Douglas County raise its property valuations. The County Board does not set valuations. That’s done by the County Assessor’s Office.

Valuations are just one part of the property tax equation. The other is property tax levy rates, which are set by the school boards, city and county governments and other political subdivisions.

“We anticipate our expenses are going to go up 3 percent,” Sutfin said. “Any combination of state aid growth, property valuation increase or voter-approved levy override authority that grows our revenue to cover expenses will help eliminate or reduce budget cuts.”

County Board Chair Chris Rodgers said Sutfin’s observations weren’t revelations to board members, who also rely on property taxes to pay for government operations. But he said the superintendent “connected the dots in a different way” for the public.

“It’s worth discussion,” Rodgers said.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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