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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 26 2013

Fargo School Board appoints committee to prepare for vote to continue excess mill levy

FARGO – The Fargo School Board is laying the groundwork for a vote to continue the school district’s excess mill levy.

The board voted 9-0 Tuesday to appoint three of its members, Linda Boyd, Dinah Goldenberg and Rick Steen, to an ad hoc committee to create a timeline for such a vote.

By law, the vote must be held before the end of 2015. Without voter approval for continuing the district’s excess mill levy, state-imposed limits on the school district’s property tax revenues go into effect.

Board President Jim Johnson said he expects the ad hoc panel to have recommendations for the board by late August or early September.

In the meantime, district officials are still trying to determine to what level the general fund mill levy must now be lowered.

That level will help determine just how many excess mills the school board may later ask voters to approve.

The school board gave initial approval to three budgets (building, special assessment and food service) Tuesday. But the largest budget – the general fund budget – remains unfinished, said Business Manager Broc Lietz.

The district now levies 191.18 mills for its general fund. It’s required to lower that budget as part of the education funding bill approved earlier this year.

One part of the education funding law approved this spring says to cut 50 mills, which would bring it to 141.18 mills, Lietz said. But another formula would allow the general fund levy to be about 176 mills.

Lietz said the board’s planning committee is aiming to cut the general fund levy to 141 mills or less.

A hike in state foundation aid for schools should offset that cut, Lietz said. The district received $47 million from the state this past school year. That will rise to about $90 million in 2013-14, he said.

Steen, who heads the planning group, said he expects to have the general fund budget ready for the board for its July 9 meeting.

The school district now levies 219.28 mills, with 26.35 used for the building fund and 1.75 mills to pay for special assessments.

A mill is a property tax rate, expressed as one-hundredth of a percent. In the district’s budget for the 2012-13 school year, each mill meant $9 in property tax levied on a $200,000 home, according to district budget documents.

In 2002, voters approved replacing the district’s unlimited general fund mill levy with a cap of 295 mills. A law passed by the North Dakota Legislature in 2009 requires a vote by the end of 2015 to approve a mill levy more than 110 mills.

If voters don’t approve the excess mill levy, the amount of money the district brings in from existing properties would be frozen until, over time, the dollars collected become the equivalent of 110 mills, Lietz said. In the meantime, the district would lose millions of dollars in property tax revenue.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583