Little Falls School Board approves 32.3 percent levy increase

The Little Falls School Board approved the district’s final property tax levy payable in 2017 at the maximum amount, $4.394 million, a 32.3 percent increase over 2016.

Business Manager Nancy Henderson told the Board Monday, during the Truth in Taxation public meeting, the large increase was due to the building referendum passed by voters earlier this year.

Little Falls is one of three area schools, including Sartell and St. Cloud, that passed a referendum, and all three had a large levy increase. Sartell taxpayers saw a 36.21 percent increase and St. Cloud, 19.32 percent, Henderson said.

The levy is payable to the district in the 2017-2018 school year. The maximum preliminary levy was approved by the Board in September, with the possibility it could be decreased before the final levy was approved and certified to the county in December.

Henderson explained that a school district levy  must be set either by state formula or by voter approval.

“Cities and counties do not have this limitation,” Henderson said. “So they can just levy for things as they see them.”

Last year, Henderson said the Legislature gave school districts a local option, which amounted to $424 in aid per student.

“The Board had to approve using that local option levy,” she said. “It would have been silly for you not to approve it, because if it’s approved, then 65 percent of that is levy and we get aid of 35 percent.”

That meant an extra $368,000 for the school district.

“That was a no-brainer to do,” she said.

Factors that impact tax changes include issues driven by state level decisions; bond or levy referendums approved by district voters and local factors, such as the real estate market, abatements, property improvements, changes in assessed market value or in classification of the property.

Voters in the Little Falls School District approved  both a bond referendum (the renewal of a bond referendum from 2004, which was approved in 2015) and an excess levy referendum approved earlier this year, for various building repair projects and the addition of an early childhood education facility at Lincoln Elementary, Henderson said.

She showed the Board a chart indicating how much of the district’s levy taxpayers are responsible for.

“If you talk to taxpayers, they think they are footing a lot of the bill,” said Henderson. “It’s really about 10 percent for running the school district and state aid makes up about 90 percent.”

She said for a while, from 2009 to 2012, the Little Falls School District was on the decline for net tax capacity.

“Now it’s starting to go back up, a good thing for our community and school,” Henderson said.

Outlining the district’s budget, Henderson said budget revenues increased 2.32 percent, from $30.079 million to $30.778 million, a difference of about $698,767.

Expenditures increased 2.04 percent, up $617,581 from the 2015-16 budget, for a total of $30.91 million.

Changes she noted were in the General Fund, down $137,000 to $27.322 million or 5.77 percent.

The Food Service Fund showed an increase of $39,170, from $1.28 million to $1.32 million. While this fund is supposed to be self-supporting, it is not supposed to have  a significant fund balance. However, fund balances are used to purchase equipment, such as a freezer that went out this year, and most recently, a dishwasher.

“It’s nice to have the money to replace those,” said Supt. Steve Jones.

Community Services is budgeted to see a $164,510 increase in its revenues over 2015-16, from $902,837 to $1.067 million. Its expenditures are budgeted to increase about the same.

Using a sample property tax statement for a home in the city of Little Falls, Henderson explained the various portions of the statement.

On the top of the statement, the value and classification of the home is stated. In this case, the home is valued at $134,900, which Henderson said was typical for the Little Falls School District.

A homestead exclusion of $25,100 is subtracted, leaving the taxable market value at $109,800 for the residential property.

The proposed tax for the property is $2,012.

At the bottom of the statement, the amount of property tax owed is broken down by county, city or township, and school district taxes owed.

This property owner’s county taxes increased from $646.99 in 2016 to $652.30 in 2017; city taxes increased about $53, going from $827.11 in 2016 to $880.20 for 2017, and the largest difference, the school district taxes under the “voter approved levies” line item, which increased from $86.75 in 2016 to $164.88 in 2017, due to the passage of the referendum.

Another line under the school district portion of the taxes is “other local levies” which Henderson said includes the student achievement levy, the operating capital levy, the safe school levy, the career and technical levy, the long-term facilities maintenance levy and a land lease levy agreement. She said the student achievement levy was about $18,000 with the other five making up about $562,000. “Not large amounts of money, but we use them for those kinds of things,” Henderson said.

Little Falls School Board Briefs

In other business Monday, the Little Falls School Board:

  • Received school bus key chains from Stacy Gold, director of Early Childhood Education, reminding the members that the two challenges the program faces are transportation and tuition;
  • Learned from Supt. Steve Jones that the Higher Learning Commission has extended the time to September 2022, that educators teaching College in Schools courses at the high school level must have a master’s degree plus 18 credits for the college course they are teaching;
  • Heard a construction update from Larry Filippi of Contegrity Group Inc.;
  • Learned Flyer Media Productions would produce three live broadcasts from the floor of the Minnesota School Board Association Conference in January, including a panel of school board members, moderated by high school students from Little Falls. Jones also said alternative career path (ACP) program would be addressed, with Little Falls being used as an example of success; and
  • Accepted $20,000 as the purchase price from Ray Dodin for a building situated next to his convenience store on First Street Northeast.
    The Little Falls School Board next meets Monday, Jan. 9, at 5 p.m. in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.