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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 13 2014

Rothsay moves ahead with bond sale; landowners continue protests over taxes on nonresident farmland

ROTHSAY, Minn. – The Rothsay School Board approved the second of two bond issues Monday for a new school, even as more than 60 farmers and other landowners packed the cafeteria, most of them there to protest taxes to pay for the planned 89,000-square-foot building.

The board voted 5-0 to have Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray sell $9.4 million in bonds at an interest rate of 4.3884 percent.

Superintendent Warren Schmidt said the interest rate, nearly three-quarters of a percent lower than anticipated, will save $1.5 million over the 30-year life of the bonds.

Another $10 million in bonds has already been sold to fund the nearly $20 million K-12 school approved by voters last May.

Many of the protesters were farmers and land owners who live outside of the Rothsay School District but own land in the district.

Jesse Stuehrenberg, who farms north of Breckenridge, must pay $20 more per acre – in all, $6,000 extra a year for 30 years.

“No one ever came out to our farm to explain why we’ll have to pay several thousand dollars for a school we’re not going to use,” Stuehrenberg said.

Bob Westfall said he’ll pay $1,000 more in property taxes a year. He said there are not enough preschoolers and kindergarteners in the pipeline to keep enrollment stable if open-enrolled students go elsewhere.

He added that the outlook for farmers is not good for the next few years.

“The taxes are going to kill us,” Westfall said. “If you proceed with this, you’re going to see a lot of bankruptcies.”

One unidentified woman praised the board’s action.

She said families send their children to Rothsay for the small class sizes.

“Education is worth fighting for,” she said. “This is going to bring people into the community.”

School board clerk Chad Larson said the district is confident in its enrollment projections.

He said concerns about nonresident taxes “are valid, and we understand that,” but it will take a change in state law to change how they are levied.

Schmidt said it’s more responsible to build a new school than to revamp the old school – parts of which date to 1903.

“We really didn’t talk a lot about kids, and that has to be our focus,” Schmidt said.

He said the bond issue passed with 52 percent support, and he has to keep the people who won the vote happy, too.

But Westfall said the school vote has done more harm than good.

“It’s split the community so terribly, just totally,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583