District 728 levy limit set at $43 million


by Kurt Nesbitt
Contributing Writer
The ceiling for the amount of money taxpayers could pay next year is about 7 percent higher than last year.

The Elk River Area School District set its tax levy limits at $43 million Monday night. The levy presented to school board members is 6.93 percent higher than the current amount, according to school board documents.

According to Joe Primus, assistant director of finance for the district, the current plan has changes in the voter-approved operating levy portion of the levy. District documents show a $400,000 increase. Primus said that’s largely related to student enrollment growth, since the district gets more state and local money as enrollment increases.

The district also plans to spend more money on facilities. Primus told the school board the district reduced long-term facilities maintenance last December, but that category is now $740,000 higher in the proposed budget for 2018.

As for the district’s lease levy, the portion of the district’s new office building not paid for by the Compass program, as well as the lease levy for the addition to Prairie View, increased by $574,000, Primus said.

Debt service is going down by $2.9 million because of the bonds the district has either restructured or refunded recently, which has helped the district spread its repayment schedule out and with a lower interest rate.

“The district has really focused on doing everything it could to lower the tax impact and lower the tax and reduce that impact for our taxpayers,” interjected Superintendent Dan Bittman, speaking to the audience.

Other budget adjustments accumulate as data from years past is finalized. Primus said tax abatements — the district has a few large properties that have tax breaks, which will reduce levies — are also a factor in the budget. The district learns about them six months to a year later, said Primus. He added the district gets abatement aid to offset the reductions and they last anywhere from five to 10 years.

“It’s imperative that we get some relief in the form of equalization,” added Greg Hein, the district’s executive director of business. “Our levy is going up almost 7 percent. The vast majority of that doesn’t mean more money for us. It means we pay more and the state pays less.”

The district has a substantial amount of property growth, which went up about 6 percent this year, and means there are properties coming onto the tax rolls that should help, Hein said. He cautioned the board not to draw conclusions on those regarding any valuation.

“We’re getting hit with both new growth and revaluation — upward valuation on our district properties. I think that’s got to be a top priority this year with the legislative session,” Hein said.

The presentation received no questions from school board members, who approved the levy limit unanimously. The final vote on the levy is scheduled for Dec. 11.