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Increase of 2 percent in property tax next year for school district

WILLMAR -- Property taxes for the Willmar School District will increase about 2 percent in 2010.

The School Board adopted a $6.7 million property tax levy Monday evening. The money collected in 2010 will help fund the 2010-11 school year.

The school levy represents an increase of $118,000, about 1.8 percent, over the property tax levy paid this year.

The school levy is set by the Minnesota Department of Education, using formulas that take into account local market value and student numbers.

The department tells school districts how much they may collect from local taxpayers each year.

The total levy is made up of four parts: voter-approved referendum, general, community education and debt service levies.

The referendum levy, a total of $2.15 million for 2010, includes two levies approved by voters. A referendum of $495 per pupil was approved in November 2001. Voters also approved a levy of $201.51 per pupil in November 2008. State aid pays part of the levy, and local taxpayers pay the rest.

The split between state aid and local levy is determined in part by the market value of property in a school district. According to information Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard provided, market values increased 1.6 percent statewide but 4.8 percent in the Willmar School District.

Because homes in the Willmar district maintained their value better than in some other areas, the district will receive a bit less state aid on its referendum levy. Local taxpayers will pay 65.4 percent next year, compared to 62.2 percent this year.

The general levy, used to pay for general operation of the district, is $1.7 million. The community education levy is $380,000, and the debt service levy is $2.5 million.

Most of the district's $47.9 million overall budget is funded by state aid. For the 2009-10 school year, the district is scheduled to receive $34.1 million for its general operating expenses, $188,000 for food service, $836,000 for community education and $190,000 for debt service.

However, because of the state's projected budget deficit, school districts will have to wait for some of this year's funding.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty decided last summer that school districts would receive 27 percent of their state aid after the current fiscal year is over. For Willmar, that delayed funding is more than $9 million.

During a presentation about the levy Monday, Kjergaard showed the board a list of the changes in school funding each year, started in 1997-98. For 2009-10, the chart listed 0.00 percent.

"My expectation is we're going to have a string of zeros" in the coming years, he said.

"If we're lucky," interjected board member Mike Reynolds.

"If we're lucky," Kjergaard agreed. School officials around the state have said they are concerned the state could delay the school payments even longer or eliminate some of that funding altogether.

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

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