School district tax levy up $1.6M

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

Before the Dec. 6 regular school board meeting, Director of Business Services Lawrence Martini presented the tax levy at the annual truth in taxation hearing.

The total levy payable in 2013 is $17,028,056. The total for 2012 was $15,554,859.

No members of the public spoke at the open forum; the audience included only school district personnel and members of the press.

Most of the levy increase will pay for half of a two-year project to improve air quality at the high school, a state-approved health and safety project.

The other half will be levied for the following school year.

The total 2012/2013 revenue budget is $75,535,110. About 84 percent of this is for the general fund. Most of the rest goes toward debt service (5.7 percent), community service (5.4 percent) and food service (5.1 percent).

The $63,301 general fund gets most of its money (78 percent, or $49,540,000) from state sources. Property taxes contribute 15 percent, or $9,620,000. The federal government kicks in $2,334,864. The remaining $1,806,700 comes from local fees.

The general fund pays for administrators, teachers, support staff, counselors, bus drivers and janitors; books and supplies; electricity, fuel for buses.

The biggest general fund expense is salaries and wages. Next school year this item will cost $39,155,281, almost 60 percent of general fund expenditures. Add the $14,512,363 for employee benefits, and 82.4 percent of the general fund is spent on personnel.

Purchased services is the next largest chunk, at $7,254,656 (11 percent). Supplies and materials will cost $3,123,133, almost 5 percent. The remaining $1,431,132 is mainly for capital expenditures.

With most general fund money coming from the state, school districts depend heavily on the state funding formula.

Martini said most school districts’ expenses, unless there are budget cuts, increase by at least 2 or 3 percent a year. The basic per-pupil funding from the state, however, has not kept up with inflation.

For 2013/2014 the formula allows $5,224 per pupil. Ten years ago that number was $4,601.

Adjusting for inflation, the 10-year-old amount is worth $5,625 in today’s dollars, according to a chart prepared by Ehlers & Associates.

The $3,050 allowed per pupil in 1991 would be worth almost $7,550 in 2013 dollars, after inflation. Martini compared Forest Lake with other school districts to show that the tax levy is not high.

In 2012 a typical Forest Lake home was assessed less than a comparable home in Roseville, Stillwater, Mounds View, White Bear Lake, Hastings, South Washington County and Centennial school districts. The second lowest school tax was in Roseville; the highest was in Centennial (87 percent higher than Forest Lake).

Citing a Star Tribune report published Dec. 2, Martini said “in every instance we are the lowest taxing school district.” The district was ranked second-lowest in debt service.

A Forest Lake house valued at $190,000 now, he said, was valued 22 percent higher in 2010. That year the tax was $625, increasing to $652 in 2011, $659 in 2012, and $704 in 2013. The 2013 increase over this year is $45.

For a $3,000,000 commercial property, also assuming the property is valued at 22 percent less than in 2010, the school property tax assessments are $11,306 for 2010, $11,757 for 2011, $12,116 for 2012, and $12,968 for 2013.

A $580,000 agricultural homestead property would have these amounts assessed: $943 in 2010, $962 in 2011, $993 in 2012, and $1,086 in 2013.

At the school board meeting after the truth in taxation hearing, the board certified the tax levy for 2013. The school budget year begins July 1 and ends June 30. Taxes collected in 2013 go toward the 2013/2014 school year.

How much “payback” money will Forest Lake district get from the state (money borrowed from school districts), and where will that money be used? After the meeting, Martini said, “We received a little less than $4 million of additional funds, which improved our cash flow. We are able to invest that money. Our estimated interest earned on that will be approximately 0.5 to 0.75 percent.”

Martini said the $1.1 billion dollar deficit projected for the state for 2014/2015 will lead the district to project very low inflationary increases in funding. He won’t have details until February, but said, “We are trying very hard not to have budget cuts for fiscal year 2014, but we may have to do some cutting.”