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Cali Owings, Published September 24 2013

Big property tax cut coming in West Fargo School District

WEST FARGO — An $850 million package of state property tax relief passed earlier this year allowed the school district here to cut its property tax rates for the 2013-14 school year, meaning reductions of hundreds of dollars for many homeowners.

The West Fargo School Board approved a 50-mill reduction to its property tax levy Monday night, said Mark Lemer, business manager for West Fargo Public Schools.

In May, the North Dakota Legislature passed more than $850 million in property tax relief, most of it geared toward shifting education costs from school districts to the state.

Since 2009, state property tax relief initiatives have allowed the West Fargo School District to reduce its property tax rate by 125 mills, Lemer said.

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

The change means a residential homeowner in the West Fargo School District whose property is valued at $100,000 can expect to see at least $225 in property tax savings this year.

Unlike previous years, the property tax relief funds don’t come with a mandate to hire more counselors or teaching specialists, Lemer said.

Despite the reduction in property tax rates, the district’s general fund budget has grown by $7.7 million since last year. The initial expenditure budget for 2013-14 is $87.3 million, Lemer said.

The increase includes funding for new staff in the recently opened Liberty Middle School and more teachers throughout the growing district.

That doesn’t include funding for capital projects such as building another new elementary school.

The district is now in the financing stages of the new school and plans to dedicate existing funds to the project, Lemer said.

But the district could again go to voters and ask to raise the property tax rate if growth continues.

“If we continue to grow, we likely will need to ask our voters for additional construction,” Lemer said. “That could have an impact on the overall tax rate.”

The district’s long-range planning task force meets this fall to analyze growth patterns, enrollment projections and building capacity. The task force will make recommendations to the School Board.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599