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Willmar School Board adopts preliminary tax levy

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WILLMAR -- Members of the Willmar School Board adopted a preliminary tax levy Monday, agreeing to seek the maximum amount.

The vote, which took place at a special meeting, marks "the first step" in a process that ends with property tax dollars returning to the School District for the 2013-14 budget, said Pam Harrington, the district's business and finance director.

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The final levy will be adopted in December, following a Truth in Taxation hearing that's set for Dec. 10 at 6:01 p.m.

The total local levy proposed for 2013 is $6.8 million, less than the $7.1 million paid this year by district property tax payers.

That's a decrease of 5 percent, Harrington said. "It's just how it worked out."

After state aid, the levy is the second largest source of revenue for the school budget, she said.

Willmar receives about $30 million a year in state aid for a fiscal year budget with a general fund currently totaling $40 million.

Unlike cities and counties, which have some discretion in how they set their property tax levy, the state of Minnesota determines what a school district's total levy will be each year.

The Willmar School District's levy total is made up of four separate levy amounts -- referendum, general fund, community education and debt service.

Referendum funding comes as the result of levies approved by the district's voters to help pay school costs. The referendum levy for the coming year will remain steady at $2.2 million.

The general fund pays for the day-to-day operations of the district, and local levy funding is used there, along with state and federal aid.

The general fund levy will drop about $200,000, from $2 million to $1.8 million. That's a reduction of about 10 percent.

Major reductions in the general fund levy are in health and safety costs and re-employment insurance. The health and safety levy is based on a three-year average of costs in that area and reflects revenue needed to cover projects planned for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2013.

The re-employment reduction was reduced because the district has paid less than estimated in recent years.

Community education funding comes from a smaller, separate levy.

The community education levy, at $352,000, will pay the school district cost of the Community Education and Recreation Department. It reflects a cut of about $30,000, mostly related to the end of an after-school tutoring program which is now a part of the general fund.

Debt service raises money to pay off voter-approved debts. In Willmar's case, most of the money goes to pay bonds on the high school which opened in 1994.

The debt service levy will decrease about 5 percent to $2.5 million. School districts levy 105 percent of their scheduled debt payments each year, so they can be prepared to handle unpaid taxes. Once a reserve builds up in the debt service fund, tax payments are decreased for a time.

More information about the preliminary levy is available on the School District's website at www.willmar.k12.mn.us/content/levy-certification.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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