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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 09 2013

Fargo 2013-14 school budget includes big dip in property taxes

FARGO – The Fargo School Board approved a preliminary general fund budget Tuesday of nearly $134 million that includes a big dip in local property taxes.

General fund revenue for the fiscal 2013-14 school year is expected to grow 7.16 percent to $133,841,650. That’s $8,942,521 more than the just-ended fiscal year, district figures show.

The biggest factor pumping up revenue is the rise in K-12 per-pupil state funding from $3,980 per student in 2012-13 to $8,810 per student in 2013-14.

The increase in state per-pupil aid by the state Legislature was designed to buy down local property taxes.

Fargo Public Schools will levy 139 general fund mills for 2013-14. That’s 52.18 mills less than the 191.18 mills levied for 2012-13, Business Manager Broc Lietz said.

The mill levy buydown means the owner of a $200,000 home will see about $9 per mill of tax relief, or a $468 per year decline in property taxes, Lietz said.

The revenue increase also reflects an estimated 2.4 percent rise in property tax values.

Expenses in fiscal 2013-14 are expected to rise 7.49 percent, or $9,325,502, to $133,841,650.

A driver in increasing expenses is a 6.58 percent rise in salary costs, reflecting pay raises to teachers and other employees and increases in staffing.

District budget planners also added $1.9 million to the operation maintenance budget to handle the needs of the district’s buildings.

Overall revenues, with about $8.7 million in federal grants, will be $142,469,671, Lietz said.

The 2013-14 budget was not planned to run a deficit, but a major project crossed from the 2012-13 budget year into 2013-14.

The Centennial Elementary School gymnasium addition project, worth about $2.3 million, will have most construction expenses come in July and August, Lietz said.

(About $320,000 of the project will be paid by the Fargo Park District as part of a joint usage agreement.)

Lietz said $2,135,000 of the gym project will be charged in fiscal 2013-14.

But a loss is not guaranteed in 2013-14.

The school board had expected a $4.1 million deficit in the 2012-13 general fund budget (to be made up by dipping into the district’s fund balance).

However, state revenues were higher than expected and construction costs lower, to give the district a $367,605 surplus. Still, that will change as the last of June’s bills come in, Lietz said.

The fund balance is used to pay bills until the district receives tax revenues and federal funds. It is also used to cover needed expenses as determined by the school board.

The fund balance stands at $27.2 million at the close of fiscal 2012-13. But gym project costs may bring the fund balance down to $24.9 million by the end of 2013-14.

The final budget must be submitted to Cass County by Oct. 10. Changes can be made until then.

In other business, the board elected Dinah Goldenberg as president for the coming year. Paul Meyers will be vice president.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583