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Willmar, Minn., school tax will drop 5 percent in 2013

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WILLMAR — Property taxpayers in the Willmar School District could see the school portion of their tax bill fall about 5 percent next year.

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The Willmar School Board set the property tax levy for 2013 at $6.8 million Monday evening after a short Truth in Taxation hearing.

The levy makes up less than one-quarter of the district’s annual budget of about $42 million.

The 2013 levy will provide fu-nding for the 2013-14 school year.

The levy approved Monday is 5 percent less than the levy approved for 2012, a drop of nearly $360,000. It’s not clear yet how that will affect individual property tax bills, though. Property tax bills are a combination of levies for the county, city or township, and school district, as well as special levies.

Changes in property value also affect tax bills.

The state of Minnesota provides more than three-quarters of the funding for more school districts in the state. The state also tells school districts how much they can levy each year.

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington told the board that the district levies the maximum allowed by the state each year. If it doesn’t, its state aid could be reduced.

The state tells the district how much it can levy in a variety of areas outside the general education formula, like health and safety or integration. “We take advantage of all we can,” Harrington said.

The only part of a school levy that is controlled locally is raised through voter-approved referendum levies. In Willmar, two current levies raise $2.2 million a year.

Also included in the overall property tax levy is $1.8 million for the general fund, $352,000 for community education and $2.5 million for debt service.

The debt service levy is used to pay for construction of Willmar Senior High. The amount of the levy varies from year to year. The state adjusts the payment each year, to make sure the account’s reserves do not grow too large but are able to cover potential tax delinquencies.

The largest reason the 2013 levy is decreasing is a $235,000 drop in the health and safety levy. The state limits the use of that levy, and the district has recently completed several approved projects, so the levy for next year was reduced, Harrington said.

Other changes come in areas like unemployment costs and community education, where costs are estimated in one year and adjusted in the next, she said.

In other business, the board approved a proposed contract for public relations services with LDMarketing Group of Willmar to produce a communications plan and a staff newsletter for the district. The work is required by the federal School Improvement Grant the district received for making changes at Kennedy Elementary School.

The company is owned by board member Linda Mathiasen, who has done other public relations work for the district. State law allows board members to work for school districts as independent contractors, with the approval of the school board. Other board members have received permission in recent years to work as coaches and substitute teachers.

There is a limit to how much income a board member may earn, but Mathiasen will not come near the limit, Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said. The contract will pay the company $2,075 for the communication plan and the newsletter, which will be distributed online.

The board also honored retiring board member Sandi Unger. Unger has served on the board for 15 years, and her term will expire at the end of the year. Kjergaard presented her with a brass bell and a plaque.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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