The Madison School Board’s two newest members are voicing the strongest support for a potential 7.4 percent property tax increase, but others worry the amount may be too high.

The property tax increase was included in a preliminary $393 million budget proposal put together by school district administrators.

The amount reflects the maximum amount the district could raise property taxes under Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal.

T.J. Mertz and Dean Loumos, who were sworn in Monday, said they don’t oppose taxing the maximum amount allowed under state revenue limits, which as proposed would add about $182 to the average $230,831 Madison home’s property tax bill.

Mertz plans to advocate for taxing the maximum amount, though he questioned some of the proposed new spending, such as whether a community partnership coordinator needed to be an administrative position costing $128,000.

“There are things we should be doing that help educate our children that we are not doing because we don’t have money to do them,” Mertz said. “If we have access to that money, we should use that access.”

Mary Burke and James Howard said they support a tax increase more in line with the rate of inflation, which as of March was 1.4 percent in the Midwest, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Burke questioned spending $1.9 million for a 1.5 percent increase in employee salary schedules. She noted the schedules already include raises for many employees based on years of experience. Those contractual increases alone will cost about $1.2 million, or about a 1 percent increase.

Howard noted that other public-sector employees aren’t seeing across-the-board raises this year, and area homeowners are still recovering from the recession.

“Just because we have the authority to tax people does not mean people have the ability to pay,” Howard said.

Ed Hughes, Marj Passman and Arlene Silveira stated positions that fell somewhere in the middle.

Silveira said she wasn’t comfortable with a 7 percent increase. Hughes said a large part of the increase was the result of a projected decrease in state aid, so a higher-than-inflation tax increase could be necessary.

Passman suggested at the board’s Monday meeting that the district may need to ask voters to approve more money for maintenance and technology upgrades that aren’t included in the proposal.

The board must decide by mid-May about whether to lay off any personnel. The current budget proposal doesn’t call for any layoffs and adds several administrative positions. New superintendent Jennifer Cheatham plans to make her own budget recommendations on July 15, at which point the state budget’s effect should be clearer.

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