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OUR TURN: Voters have a chance to influence Marble Falls ISD tax rate

Marble Falls school patrons have a chance to influence a vital taxation issue next weekend, but they have to get to the ballot box.

That means researching the issue, talking to School Board officials, reading news reports, weighing the options and physically getting down to the polls.

Late summer isn’t really the time when most think about pulling a lever in a voting booth, but the day is almost here.

A tax-rollback election is being held Saturday, Aug. 25, for the Marble Falls Independent School District.

According to district officials, the vote could lead to a slightly lower rate. But voters need to pay attention to the language on the ballot.

The wording actually sounds like a tax increase, but it’s really a tax shift — with one penny returning to taxpayers.

The shift could generate about $400,000 to help balance the budget and stave off cutbacks. In addition, some homeowners could see a slight savings.

The School Board approved lowering the overall tax rate from $1.29 per $100 valuation to $1.28 earlier this year. But under the plan, the district is shifting 1.333 cents from the Interest and Sinking fund, which pays off debt, to the maintenance-and-operation fund. The district is also shaving one penny off the I&S rate, which is the amount going back to the taxpayers.

The M&O portion of the rate covers salaries and the cost of daily operations.

If voters approve the shift, the decrease could mean a $20 savings on a property valued at $200,000.

Everybody can use a little savings these days.

So far MFISD hasn’t seen the cutbacks experienced by other districts after the Legislature in 2011 approved more than $4 billion in reductions to balance the budget.

The district already slashed about $1.5 million from the 2011-2012 budget, and officials are looking at a $36.7 million budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Without a balanced budget, school officials have warned that some non-core school programs could be threatened.

While it seems like they always say this, the fact that other school districts have already implemented cuts, including to athletic programs, could mean this is no idle statement.

For MFISD alone, the state cut about $1.8 million in funding during the 2011-2012 fiscal year. District officials said it could happen again in 2012-2013 to the tune of $1.2 million.

In other words, this ballot issue could be a tipping point.

Early voting runs through Tuesday. Election day is Saturday. Early voting hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The hours are 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on election day.

The only polling location for both early voting and election day is the MFISD Administrative Office community room, 1800 Colt Circle.

Though the final decision on casting a ballot belongs to the voters, those headed to the polls should be aware that while the language sounds like a tax increase, it isn’t.