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Detroit Lakes school levy plan would raise money, but not taxes

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Detroit Lakes Online
Detroit Lakes school levy plan would raise money, but not taxes
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Officials with the Detroit Lakes School District have devised a plan to raise about $400,000 a year in new tax revenue -- without raising property taxes.

But this is what they are afraid the voters will focus on when they go to the polls:

"BY VOTING "YES" ON THIS BALLOT QUESTION, YOU ARE VOTING FOR A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE."

That's the state-mandated language that will be on the ballot.

The proposed operating levy has been carefully crafted so that nobody's taxes will go up, and some, like farmers and seasonal cabin owners, will actually see their property taxes go down, if the measure is approved.

"Farmers will see a significant reduction," said Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke. They will still be taxed on their home, garage and one acre of land, but the rest of their land will not be subject to the new levy.

That's because the new operating levy is designed to replace a building bond levy, which is a different breed of cat.

The last payment on a 1990 expansion project at Roosevelt Elementary will be made this year. The district was levying about $500,000 a year to pay off the bonds for that project.

Building bond levies tap into a larger pool of money than operating levies.

The building bond levy is spread across some $1.8 billion in taxable market value across the Detroit Lakes School District.

Because of exemptions to certain property classifications -- such as farmland, commercial-industrial and seasonal lakeshore property -- the district can only tap into approximately $1.3 billion in taxable market value for its operating levy.

There will be fewer people to pay for the new operating levy, but their taxes will not increase because the district is only seeking to raise about $400,000, not the $500,000 currently being raised for the building bond.

If approved, the 10-year operating levy will raise an additional $406,00 a year for the district.

The ballot measure would revoke the existing $319-per-pupil unit operating levy and replace it with a $457-per-pupil unit levy.

The total operating levy will generate about $1.3 million for the school district, up from about $900,000 a year under the existing levy.

The levy will help bolster the school district's general fund "in anticipation of a lack of state funding for perhaps the next four years," Froke said. The state is projecting budget deficits for the next four years, he explained.

"It's a difficult time to ask for more from people," he said. "We call it a partnership -- we didn't want to increase anybody's taxes, but this will help us over the next few years."

State funding has flat-lined, but the district must continue to meet its expenses, just like everybody else.

The district has implemented cost containments -- cuts and higher fees -- of $2.2 million over the past four years, but expenses for utilities, insurance, transportation, and textbooks continue to increase -- which means the district needs additional funds, even with no additional programs, staff or services.

The district doesn't haven't anything sexy planned for the referendum dollars. They'll be used for ongoing operating expenses; instructional materials and supplies; to prevent increases in class size; and for technology and maintenance projects.

If the referendum fails, the district says there will be significant spending cuts for the next several years.

A number of teachers and other employees will be laid off.

Reduced staff will result in a significant increase in class sizes.

Current programs will be cut, reduced or offered at an increased cost to students.

Polls will be open at the Middle School and the High School from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Absentee votes can be cast from now until Nov. 2 at the Detroit Lakes Administration Center.

Voters should contact Colleen Schmit at the Administration Center, 218-847-9271.

If you have any questions about the referendum or voting procedures, contact the Detroit Lakes Schools at 847-9271.

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