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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 24 2013

Fargo school panel eyes March for excess mill levy vote

FARGO – A Fargo School Board panel is focusing on the end of March as the best time for a special election to ask voters to continue the district’s excess mill levy.

It could also be the right time to ask voters to OK school construction bonds, mill levy ad hoc committee members said Wednesday.

The panel zeroed in on March 25 as the best day for a vote to allow the district to keep its taxing authority and not have its revenues capped.

The ad hoc group also decided to call in a consultant to work with the school board on guidelines for educating voters on issues. Education efforts are allowed for public bodies in North Dakota, but advocating a position on a school ballot issue is illegal for the board.

School board member Rick Steen suggested using the March vote to bundle a school bond issue with the excess mill levy question.

“Let’s not let an opportunity go by” to let the public weigh in on bonding, he said.

Steen and board member Linda Boyd said the district will need to build another elementary school south of Interstate 94 to handle booming enrollment there. In addition, major maintenance and facilities upgrades are needed at schools throughout the district, they say.

Together, the price tag for those needs would require the board to seek a vote, they said, and combining the votes would save money and time.

The ad hoc group agreed to bring the idea of bundling a bond issue and excess mill levy vote to the board for discussion.

The March date was chosen to separate the excess mill levy vote from the June local government elections. The date also gives the School Board time to decide if it should bring the issue back before voters if it fails the first time around.

A law passed by the North Dakota Legislature in 2009 requires a vote by Dec. 31, 2015, to approve a mill levy of more than 110 mills.

To pass, the measure requires a simple majority, or 50 percent of voters plus one.

The School District’s budget for 2013-14 calls for levying 139 general fund mills, which is 52.18 less than the 191.18 levied last year, Business Manager Broc Lietz said.

If voters don’t approve the excess mill levy, the tax revenue the district brings in from existing properties is 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 annually in property tax revenue, he said.

A mill is a property tax rate, expressed as one-hundredth of a percent.

In the 2012-13 school year, each mill meant $9 in property tax levied on a $200,000 home, Lietz said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583