Editorial: The taxman cometh

You’re likely to see a lot of dollar signs and talk of tax caps in The Spotlight in coming weeks. School budgeting season has started in earnest.

We make it a point to cover school budget discussions as fully and fairly as we can. They’re not always exciting (honestly, they’re sometimes dull), but for us the litmus test for a story isn’t salaciousness, it’s importance. And if you own a home, have young children or are one of the thousands in this area employed by a school district, these budgets most definitely matter.

In preparation of the annual budgeting exercises, we offer this primer on important topics and terms of school budget conversation. Stay tuned to these pages for updates on what you will be voting on come May.

• Tax levy: The full amount of taxes the district plans to raise. The tax levy should not be confused with a total budget. School districts receive other revenues, not the least of which is aid from the state.

While the tax levy has an impact on what individual property owners pay, that impact can be great or small based on a number of factors, which brings us to...

• Tax rate: An individual taxpayer is probably most concerned with the tax rate, which is used to calculate a tax bill. Taxes are charged per $1,000 of assessed property value—in other words, a person with a home assessed at $100,000 who pays a tax rate of $1 per $1,000 of property value would owe $100 in school taxes (and would no doubt be very enthusiastic about his or her situation).

What can be particularly confusing about tax rates is they often differ from town to town in the same school district. A Bethlehem Central taxpayer in New Scotland will end up paying a different tax rate than a homeowner down the road in Bethlehem. This is because of...

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