School board levy up 3.28 percent
The maximum allowable tax levy for the Osakis School District was certified to the county auditor at the School Board's Truth in Taxation meeting held Monday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. The levy is $1,751,014, an increase of 3.28 percent for 2019, or an increase of $55,540 from last year's levy.
In comparison, the board approved the 2018 levy at 3.27 percent levy, in the amount of $1,695,474, which was an increase of $53,645.
Superintendent Randy Bergquist gave a slide presentation on the district's taxation process to board members, press, and citizens, Justin Dahlheimer and Kirsten Wessel.
Before the final vote, School Board members discussed at length various formulas, as well as the future needs of the district in replacing infrastructure.
Always, the board's concern was the effect on the local taxpayers, and the amount of funding that will be received from the State of Minnesota.
At a previous meeting the board had set $300 as the Local Optional Revenue (LOR) per pupil unit, part of which is levied against local taxpayers. The maximum LOR allowed for Osakis is $424 per pupil unit, but that has never been levied.
Bergquist said the current adjusted pupil units stand at 917.60, based on the present enrollment.
The Osakis district LOR was established by the staff several years ago, and is the levy amount the state allows without a special election. The LOR average in the state is $1,159.
Figures presented show that Osakis has the lowest LOR of the nine surrounding schools. All of the other districts have additional levies on top of the board-approved LOR.
Dahlheimer, who is a member of the Osakis City Council, reminded the board that the School District is the largest employer in the city of Osakis. He emphasized the need to grow the tax base.
He asked, "Have you ever surveyed your staff about where they live and why they live there?" referring to staff who work in the Osakis district, but enroll their children in other districts.
Discussion pointed out that there is a shortage of suitable housing in the city, and another housing development could be beneficial.
Board member Monica Klimek, referring to the long-term facility maintenance program now in its third year, pointed out, "We have a huge laundry list of things we have to do. A lot of big infrastructure things that have to be fixed. It is hard because we don't have the tax base."
Mike Collins agreed. "We want to make sure that we are keeping up on the things we need to keep up on." He also agreed the board should take advantage of the state funding, and favored $150 for the LOR, which would be easier on the taxpayers.
Tom Grundman pointed out that there are ways to ease the local tax burden, and still receive state funding.
Board Chair Becky Hensley commented, "We need to increase our tax base and find more people to move into our community, but we have a laundry list of what we need to do. I don't see how we can get it all done. We have been very conscientious about the increase. It's a lot, but we have to invest in our kids and continue to support our school."
Genny LaBrun and Greg Faber agreed that the district's long-term maintenance needs have to be addressed.
In the end, Bergquist thought the $300 LOR was too high, and $150 was too low. "Give a break to the taxpayers. That's a good thing," he said.
Bergquist pointed out that the Osakis district has an unrestricted fund balance of $4 million, and that the state funding is not settled in light of the state's predicted $1.5 billion surplus.
The Osakis district also has $168,000 in the current Safe Schools Levy account, and also $27,807 in the Career and Technical Ed Levy, which is used to defray costs of the Ag and FACS teacher salaries and supplies.
He recommended that the board reduce the LOR from $300 to $250, which would mean a 3.28 percent increase of revenue for the Osakis School District.
Finally, Collins made a motion to set the Local Optional Revenue at $250, decrease the levy for Safe Schools, and zero out the Career Tech Levy and reappropriate those dollars. Motion passed.
It is estimated that the cost of the 2019 levy will increase the tax on the average $140,000 homestead in the district to approximately $110.