SALEM — The House Revenue Committee today will take up a bill requested by the Ashland School District to increase the local option tax rate used by a handful of school districts to backfill programs.

SALEM — The House Revenue Committee today will take up a bill requested by the Ashland School District to increase the local option tax rate used by a handful of school districts to backfill programs.

Ashland is considering switching to the local option tax from its current youth activities levy, which expires in 2008. The tax would be levied by the district and could be used for core academic programs as well as activities. The current levy is assessed by the city and can be used only on school activities such as music, club sports and drama.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, increases the cap from 15 percent to 20 percent of operating revenue, then allows a 3 percent increase annually until it bumps up against the Measure 5 property tax limitation imposed by voters in 1990.

"What we're trying to get is an income source that grows," said Amy Amrhein, a member of the Ashland School Board for six years.

The current levy raises about $2 million a year for schools. Amrhein said the shift to local option tax will be put to voters in May 2008.

District officials said the tax rate would probably be less than the current levy of $1.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The rate would be lower because of population growth, higher property values and the fact all district residents would pay, not just those in the city limits, officials said.

Ashland's situation is critical because the district expects 100 fewer students next year and each year thereafter for the next seven years, Amrhein noted in her memo to Buckley.

"Each lost student equates to approximately $5,000," she said. The savings garnered from having fewer students amount to roughly half that, she added, which means program cuts would total about $2,500 per student, or $250,000 a year.

The local option tax would help offset those loses, assuming voters approve, Amrhein said in her memo.

"It will not make us a rich district. It will maintain our current status," she said.

"We anticipate asking for the same amount as we currently receive, not more."

Buckley, the sole sponsor, said lifting the cap would allow the district to ask for slightly more money to make up for the loss of enrollment.

"We want to make sure the students that are there now and in the future have the same opportunities the students have now," he said.

Buckley said it appears most of the Revenue Committee members support the bill, although they haven't committed. "Then we have to get it passed in the House and then over to the Senate, so we have a ways to go yet," he added.

The Revenue Committee will take up HB 2641 in a work session beginning at 1 p.m.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem. Reach him at jepsen34@open.org.