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Mila Koumpilova, Published November 03 2009

MOORHEAD ELECTION: School levy vote bringing people to the polls

Moorhead residents are weighing in today on a proposed $850 per-pupil operating levy, and it ap-pears the issue is spurring brisker-than-usual voter traffic for an off-year election.

Moorhead election judges said they’ve seen a steady flow of voters this morn-ing. Based on overheard conversations and com-parisons to previous years, they speculated the levy was on top of residents’ minds.

“It’s been way busier than what we were expecting,” said Mary Holthe, the chief judge at Triumph Lutheran Church, where 120 residents cast a ballot in the first two hours of voting, including many new registrations. “I think it’s the school election. That’s what I am hearing from a lot of people.”

After $4.5 million in budget cuts this spring, the Moorhead district is asking taxpayers for help at a time when the cash-strapped state has frozen funding over the next two years.

The levy would be in place for seven years. It would bring in an extra $5.25 million a year, about a fifth of it in matching state funds. The levy would raise taxes by an estimated $183 a year on a $100,000 home and by $457 a year on a $250,000 home.

Moorhead residents in-terviewed this morning almost unanimously con-firmed the levy vote was the main reason they’d made a point of showing up at the polls.

Supporters, many of them parents of Moorhead students, said they were troubled by the increase in class sizes following teacher layoffs in the spring. They said deeper cuts the district faces would impair the quality of education there.

“When my kids are coming home and saying, ‘My class is really big this year,’ it just kind of hits home,” said Shelly Hawley, who has three children in the district.

Opponents, most of whom did not wish to give their names, said the dis-trict was asking for too much from Moorhead taxpayers beleaguered by the rough economy. They said the tax increase from the levy would put a strain on family budgets.

Dean and Cleo Williams, who voted at Grace United Methodist Church in south Moorhead, said the main reason they went to the polls was their strong opposition to the levy.

"They have to tighten their belt," Dean Williams said.

The levy needs at least 50 percent of votes to pass.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529