Board OKs new operating levy
Board approves extra $300 per pupil; to take effect next year
Tom Klein

REGIONAL – St. Louis County Schools residents will see a bump in their taxes soon as the result of a new excess operating levy.

At its meeting on Tuesday, the board voted 5-1 to collect $300 per pupil in an excess operating levy. Nancy Wall Glowaski opposed the motion, arguing that the board should have delayed the vote until the full board was present. Board member Troy Swanson was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Chairman Robert Larson, however, said the district had to act before the end of the month to begin collecting the levy in 2014.

Districts have had the power to collect excess levies before, but previously required voters’ approval first. Legislation, introduced this year in the Minnesota Senate by Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, changed the requirements, allowing districts to levy up to $300 per student without voter approval.

The levy, which will be collected in May 2014 and be available to the district by July 2014, will raise $586,200 based on the current student enrollment at St. Louis County Schools. The state will pay a portion of the levy with its share coming to $202,042 while the local share will be $384,152.

The levy would be collected for five years and could rise or fall depending on student enrollment.

Meanwhile, the excess operating levy will also benefit the Vermilion Country Charter School, opening in Tower this fall. Under state law, the charter school will also receive the levy increase as part of its metered payments from the state.

Cost to homeowners will vary depending on the market value of their home. Based on the first year of the levy, the tax on a home with a market value of $50,000 would be $13 while the tax on a home with a market value of $ $200,000 would see a tax of $54.

Although board members would like to earmark the levy funds for education, especially Early Childhood and Learning Readiness programs, board Chairman Larson acknowledged that the levy dollars flow into the general operating fund and could be tapped for other needs from salaries to repairs. “If we had a boiler break down that we had to replace, those dollars would not be protected,” he admitted.

St. Louis County previously collected an excess operating levy of $126 per pupil for 10 years, but attempts to increase the levy were rejected three times by voters. In 2006 and 2007, voters opposed a plan to increase the levy by $500 per pupil for 10 years. In 2008, they rejected a proposal to increase the levy by $300 per pupil for five years.

District residents may see yet another boost in taxes if the board opts to pursue a lease levy to expand the Cherry School, which is running out of classroom space. Larson said the board is still considering that option but is waiting for more information before proceeding. He expects the issue to be brought before the board before the end of August.

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