Pierz school officials lower local property tax levy by 1.8 percent

By Lorae Vardas, Correspondent

After conducting the state mandated Truth In Taxation public hearing Dec. 18, Pierz school officials adopted the final 2013 levy resolution for property taxes payable in 2014 at $1.191 million. That’s a $22,000 or 1.8 percent decrease over the previous year that local property taxpayers are being assessed, Earl Athman, district business manager, said.

By individual accounts, the Board certified the following amounts to the Morrison County Auditor: General Fund, $785,650; Community Education, $59,000; and Debt Service, $346,000.

Supt. George Weber discovered some interesting statistics since taking over the helm. Local taxes back in 1992 were the same as last year at about $1 million. On the other hand, the total budget in 1992 stood at just under $6 million compared to more than $11.5 million today. The shift in state funding in recent years has been good for Pierz, he said.

In a related agenda item, the Board accepted the District 484 financial audit as presented by Steve Wischmann, from Kern DeWenter Viere (KDV) auditing firm of St. Cloud. The audit indicates that Pierz added $82,000 to its fund balance last year for a total of $5.8 million in all funds. Revenues exceeded $11.750 million while expenses were held under $11.660 million.

According to the audit review, Pierz received the best opinion. The school district has a decent fund balance and is on solid financial ground. “Overall, our data are very positive,” said  Weber. “The auditors have great things to say about the staff who work in our business office and the high attention they pay to every detail in tracking all purchases, all payroll and benefits, all fundraising from activities, and the overall inventory of all district resources.” He said KDV consistently ranks Pierz as one of their best audits.

Pierz School Board Briefs

In other business at the December meeting, the Pierz School Board:

• Accepted donations of $150 each from Mike Brixius and the American Legion Auxiliary to the National Honor Society; the Corporate Commission, $500, and Loidolt Lumber, $100, to the Pioneer Student Council; Pierz Lions, $250, to the robotics program, and $1,000 to the football club for coaches;

• Made several personnel changes, including the employment of Michelle Nelson as high school paraprofessional and resignation of Theresa Blaisdell as education assistant;

• Voted to allow students to take the ACT, ASVAB or Accuplacer as graduation assessments in lieu of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) grad exams in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Pierz already does this,  Supt. George Weber said, but the state requires districts to formally identify the three diploma qualifying assessments students must take;

• Renewed the district’s health insurance coverage with Health Partners and the National Joint Powers Alliance cooperative for the 2013-2014 calendar year;

• Passed a resolution supporting the district’s application to the Minnesota State High School League Foundation for grant funding aimed at getting more student participation in athletic and fine arts extracurricular programs;

• Reviewed information from MLA Architects and RAMorton construction engineers regarding future facility upgrades. Long-range needs under consideration include a fitness center, band/choir room improvements, tennis court renovations with field house, and an elementary school addition. Regarding the latter, Pioneer Elementary, which opened in 1991, was designed for 400 students. It now surpasses 500 students. Despite four modular classrooms, space is at a premium. At least four more classrooms are needed because of increasing enrollment in the lower grades. Pioneer Elementary’s bond will be paid off in 2014; and

• Began the referendum planning process. Administration recently met with Ehlers and Associates financial planners to discuss potential referendum scenarios. “We feel it is critical that we renew the existing operating levies that are set to expire at the end of 2014,” Supt. Weber told the Board. “So we are beginning to gather tax impact data in order to provide recommendations for the school board to consider.” It appears taxpayers could actually see a decrease in their local property taxes with the renewal of the existing operating levy. Various options are being studied to get the best deal. “Now is an excellent time to renew the levies that are expiring in 2014,” said Weber. A referendum vote would likely be held in conjunction with the November 2014 General Election.

The Pierz School Board next meets Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. in the Healy High Board Room.