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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 13 2013

Vote set for March 25 on Fargo School District's excess tax rate

FARGO – Next March 25 is the date Fargo School District voters get to decide whether to allow the district to keep its excess mill levy.

The School Board voted 7-1 Tuesday to call for the vote, deciding on a special election instead of piggy-backing the issue on the June 10 municipal election ballot or the Nov. 4, 2014, general election ballot.

Board member Linda Boyd, who led the committee that researched the issue, said a special election should improve the focus on the election, “given the noise of the other campaigns” in the other elections.

John Strand was the lone dissenting vote. He wanted to bundle the issue in one of the other elections to cut the cost and get more voters involved. He added that he’d prefer to ask voters for money to build a new elementary school on the south side.

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

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

Board member Rusty Papachek, who teleconferenced part of the meeting, did not have a vote recorded.

Board members decided, for now, not to include other measures on the ballot.

Big expenses

The School District faces large capital expenses to handle growing enrollment and to upgrade or repair aging schools.

So, it’s still possible the board could decide to ask voters to approve bonding authority to build one or more elementary schools, approve money to upgrade security at schools or to revamp heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, or some combination of both.

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

If voters don’t approve the excess mill levy, tax revenue the district brings in from existing properties is frozen until, over time, the dollars collected are equivalent to 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.

Video contract

In other business, AVI Systems of Fargo was awarded the contract with a 9-0 vote to supply video equipment to broadcast board meetings.

AVI’s bid of $19,318 beat out Fargo’s Tricorne Audio’s bid of $24,504. The board declined to buy an optional $4,500 three-year support contract from AVI.

Lietz said building a door at the back of the boardroom to create a video room can be done by school district personnel and should cost less than $500 with materials.

Lietz said staffing the video system can also be handled internally.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583