Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault brought the preliminary levy for taxes payable 2018 to the St. Michael-Albertville school board last Monday evening, and the board certified the preliminary levy at the maximum allowed amount of $13,357,736 in a 5-1 vote.
“What I want to stress right from the start is that a lot of these are based on state aid, and sometimes the state shifts where the funding is coming from,” Foucault said. “So instead of state aid, they say we are going to shift that to the levy.”
Foucault said increasing house values in the district and increasing enrollment numbers have played the largest role in the district’s levy fluctuation. The general fund’s increase of 6.9 percent is due to increasing enrollment, she said. Operating capital, the Q Comp teacher training program and the Safe Schools fund are all based on enrollment numbers. The long-term facilities fund is partially based on student enrollment, along with a state formula that has also increased over the past few years.
The voter approved-portion of the levy has increased $1.1 million, which Foucault said is due to the passage of this year’s STMA bond. She said this is the amount needed for next year’s principle and interest on the building bonds.
The district’s levy has fluctuated quite a bit in previous years. Last year the overall levy was up 4.7 percent, up 1.07 percent in 2016, up 11.78 percent in 2015 and down the three years prior to that, between 1.52-7.59 percent per year.
Last year’s increase of 4.7 percent resulted in a tax increase of $35 per year for a $200,000 home, so this year’s projected levy increase of 6.9 percent will mean a bigger hit on the school district portion of residents’ 2018 property taxes. Foucault said they do not yet know how much the state will pay of this increased levy amount, but that information will be provided in December. She estimated an increase of around a $50 per year for a $200,000 home.
“Again, most of that are shifts in state aid,” Foucault said. “The state will pay for the long-term facility maintenance, for example, but two-thirds of the money that we get is state aid and one-third is levy. If the board decided not to certify the maximum amount, we would be giving that two-thirds back to the state.”
“The money we’re spending, we’re spending on kids,” board chair Drew Scherber said in his voice of support for approving the maximum levy.
Board member Hollee Saville cast the sole “nay” vote for the preliminary budget’s passage.
“We increase [the levy] every year, without voter approval,” Saville said. “We do have some money in reserves. I don’t like to keep increasing taxes for an eventuality that, maybe in two years, we might need it. We are making people pay now.”
Board member Jeff Lindquist said Saville was not alone in her concern for increasing taxpayers’ expenses, but he said that approving the maximum levy would put the district in the best position to receive the maximum possible in state aid, which would decrease the local property taxpayers’ share of the $863,000 levy increase.
“We pay state taxes too, I get that,” Lindquist said. “But I’m not sure there’s a more cost- effective way to do that for our constituents.”
For her part, Foucault said she was hesitant to dip into district reserves because they already have a few budgetary wild cards which may require using some reserve funds. Two of their contracts-principals and teachers-are currently in negotiations, and these salaries represent a large portion of the district’s general fund expenditures. Other wild cards in next year’s budget include the opening of the two school expansions and the all-purpose facility as well as uncertainty of what the next biennium will bring at the state level.
The board will approve the final levy in December after their annual Truth in Taxation hearing, which is set for Dec. 5. The board could reduce the levy from the maximum at that time if they choose to, Foucault said.