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School okays mill hike to fund $13 million budget

Posted 10/09/13 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With the decision by the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board to increase its mill levy from 70.76 to 81.91 mills, property taxpayers in the school district will be seeing their taxes going up this year.
During a special meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the board approved an 11.15 mill levy increase that will help fund the district’s $13.9 million budget for the 2013-14 school year.
Based on the new mill increase, the owner of a $200,000 home in McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 will see their taxes increase from $636.84 to $906, while the owner of a $300,000 home will see their taxes go up from $995 to $1,105.79. For the owner of a typical quarter section of land, their taxes will increase from $123 to $135.
But according to Steve Holen, district superintendent, the new taxes to support the school district are less than they were in 2011 when the owner of a $200,000 home paid $784.44, the owner of a $300,000 home paid $1,176.66, and the owner of a quarter section of land paid $183.
According to Holen, the school board was in a difficult position on how much it needed to raise the mill levy.
“The district’s mill levy has fluctuated greatly over the years depending on how much money the state was providing in per pupil payment and based on what our budget needs were,” stated Holen.
For example, according to Holen, the district’s mill levy was as high as 185 mills prior to 2000. In 2009, the state set the maximum mill levy at 110 mills, and in the past legislative session, the maximum mill levy was set at 60 mills.
“With our current general fund mill levy at 53.15 mills, our school district had to increase our mills to the new level of 60 mills,” stated Holen. “Plus, the state allowed every school district in the state the opportunity to have a one-time 12 percent mill levy increase.”
Because the valuation of property within the district is increasing, the board felt that now was the right time for them to raise the mill levy in order to meet the district’s growth.
“In reality, we saw the tax savings in 2011 and 2012,” stated Holen. “Today we are needing more money because of the increased staff numbers, the elementary school expansion and to begin the process of building a third school building.”
While the district is increasing its 2013 budget by over $4 million to $13,936,160, Holen says that the bulk of the increase in taxes will be borne by pipelines and other new infrastructure that has been built in the school district.
According to Holen, while the rapid growth in the taxable valuation within the district is good news, it is also creating a challenge for the school board at budget time.
“We have seen our taxable valuations go from $7.8 million in 1982 to over $42 million this year,” states Holen. “Last year, the taxable valuation was just over $30 million. And that means that as taxable valuations go up, the mill levy will drop. Which is one of the reasons that the board felt that it was important that we get above the 60 mill levy limit this year. We need to be on the same level playing field as the rest of the school districts in the state.”
During Tuesday night’s meeting, in addition to setting the district’s general fund mill levy at 67.2 mills, the board also approved keeping the district’s building fund levy at 10 mills and setting a HVAC levy of $220,833.
“The biggest changes in our new budget are the funding of new positions for the district, making the bond payment for the elementary school district and setting aside money for land acquisition for a third school building.
According to Holen, the new budget provides $1.1 million for land acquisition and architectural costs for a new building, $1 million for 10 new teaching positions and nine new ancilliary positions, $800,000 for bus purchases, $625,000 for lease revenue bond payments for the elementary project, $350,000 in matching funds for parking lots at the elementary school, $100,000 for new desks, books and lockers, $85,000 for the high school roofing project, $70,000 for repairs on the high school track, $70,000 for new teacher computers, and $30,000 for a demographics study.