Peppin leads 11th hour drop in 2017 levy

After suggesting no increase to levy, he offered a proposal to cut the proposed increase in half and got board support

by Rachel Minske
Contributing Writer
In a somewhat dramatic turn of events at an Elk River Area School Board meeting Dec. 12, elected leaders made a last-minute change to the 2017 tax levy.
The board certified a 1.12 percent levy increase for next year, or a total levy of about $40.32 million. The increase is half of the previously proposed 2.24 percent increase, or about $40.76 million over 2016 – an amount discussed for some time, including earlier in that evening’s meeting during a presentation from the district’s finance department.

Development at the 11th hour

Gregg Peppin
Gregg Peppin

Just as the board was concluding its discussion about the levy certification, School Board Member Gregg Peppin proposed an amendment that would keep the levy at the same level as last year. The 2016 certified tax levy was about $39.87 million.
The amendment failed due to lack of majority; Board Members Dan Hunt and Peppin voted in favor of this motion while Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka, Shane Steinbrecher, Sue Farber and Tony Walter voted in opposition.
“I personally wish you wouldn’t have gone so drastic, all the way down to zero (percent change),” Farber said to Peppin.
Then Peppin returned with a second amendment.
The director, who joined the board in August after winning a special election, then proposed the board “split the difference” and vote on a levy increase of 1.12 percent, half of what was originally proposed. To account for the change, money would be taken out of the long-term facility maintenance levy, which falls under the district’s general fund, said Executive Director for Business Services Greg Hein in an interview with Star News.
“The sky isn’t falling,” said Peppin, addressing concerns by other board members about the repercussions of altering the levy increase. “Let’s give the taxpayers a break this time.”
The motion to certify a 1.12 percent levy increase for 2017 was approved on a 5-1 vote. Board Member Jaime Plantenberg-Selbitschka voted in opposition, noting she did not feel comfortable with the last-minute change.
“I don’t feel like I have enough information,” she said.
The certified levy is an increase of $446,531, or 1.12 percent, over last year. A $300,000 home in the jurisdiction should see about a $36 drop from their proposed bill to the final amount on the school district portion of their tax bill, Hein said.

Last-minute efforts no surprise to Hein
Hein said the last-minute proposal from Peppin was no surprise.
“He was quite transparent in the work session that he was going to be seeking a way to reduce the levy,” he said of Peppin.
Hein said that over the course of the last month, he’s had several individual conversations with Peppin about lowering the levy. He added that while such a proposal is uncommon, it’s certainly not unprecedented. The change does not appear to have added any extra work for his department, Hein said.
However, such a change does have its ramifications, Hein said. By reducing the long-term facility maintenance levy, it means there will be fewer dollars available to do repair work on things in district buildings that are beyond their useful life. That levy funds things like repairs to windows, roofs and boiler systems, he said.
It’s best practice to stay ahead of those projects, but ultimately it’s a matter of prioritization, he said.
“Anytime you reduce the funding for that, it delays projects that should be done as soon as possible,” Hein said.