School explains levying
A handful of people gathered at the Rugby High School on Sept. 18 for the mill levy hearing, which the school district was required by law to hold after increasing the property tax levy by 25.17 percent.
While the figure may be eye-popping, the large number was due, in part, to legislative action last session, which changed the way schools were funded both through the state and locally.
By funding more at the state level, the legislators lowered the number of mills that the school district could levy, causing the need for an increase.
“More is coming from the state, less from the local taxpayer,” said superintendent Mike McNeff.
In actuality, the district is requesting around $35,000 less in taxes for the 2014 budget than for the 2013 budget, which came in at approximately $2.3 million.
McNeff and district school business manager Kris Thiel explained that while the number of mills varies from year to year, the actual amount that the school has levied has not seen a major spike since 2001.
McNeff said there are a number of variables that go into the school budget, including costs for special education.
“If we have IEP students that need 1 on 1 para-professionals, that’s an extra $30,000,” he said. “That’s something we don’t have control over.”
McNeff said health care costs, like with most employers, are increasing. The Affordable Care Act is forcing the school to give health insurance to part-time employees that it didn’t have to before.
McNeff said there’s also fluctuation within the district student count. The district is paid from the state on a per-student basis with an estimate provided by the state’s Department of Public Instruction.
He said that Rugby is below the estimate and may be next year as well, although the outlook is for a small increase in students over the next five years.
“You talk about 20 students, that’s a lot of money,” he said.
McNeff said the increase in property values throughout the state has made mills more valuable, but that likely won’t increase in perpetuity.
“If we wouldn’t have seen a 15 percent increase we would be deficit spending,” he said. “At some point this evaluation has got to slow down.”
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