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Willmar OKs 1.3 percent preliminary levy increase for next year

WILLMAR -- A preliminary property tax for the Willmar School District projects an increase of about 1.3 percent for 2011.

The Willmar School Board approved a preliminary levy of $6.9 million Monday for its portion of the overall tax bill for property owners in Kandiyohi County. The levy is the maximum the state allows and an $87,000 increase over this year's school property taxes.

A public hearing on the levy will be held Dec. 13. The board will also adopt the final levy in December.

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington described the four-part levy for the board. The levy includes $2.2 million in local referendum funding, $1.8 million for general education , $384,000 in community education and $2.6 million for debt service.

The final levy can be less than the preliminary levy, but it can't be increased in most cases. The exception is for a local referendum approved by the district's voters. Willmar is asking for a $400 increase in its local operating levy this fall.

Many boards adopt the maximum preliminary levy in September, so they have some flexibility later, Harrington said.

Aside from local referendums, state law and the Department of Education determine levy amounts.

In the Willmar School District, income from existing referendums is about $2.2 million.

If the new operating levy is approved, it will revoke a $498.49 levy per pupil unit and replace it with an $898.49 levy per pupil unit. That would raise an additional $1.9 million for the district's operating budget.

The general fund levy is $1.8 million. It is used for general operations of the district and includes several separate smaller levies, including those for health and safety and for capital improvements. The total general fund budget in Willmar is about $40 million.

A state formula is used to determine how much a school district receives in state aid and how much is levied on its local taxpayers. Most districts, including Willmar, receive about 80 percent of their funding from the state.

The formula takes into account the market value of property, the number of students living in the district and the number of students who attend school in the district.

The Community Education levy represents a 1.1 percent increase over this year. That levy is used to support a variety of community education, early childhood education and recreation programs.

The debt service levy is about $18,000 more than this year. The district is required by law to levy 105 percent of what it needs to make payments on its debt each year. The law also keeps districts from using that money for anything but retiring debt. A surplus can build in that account over time.

"We don't get to keep it," Harrington said when board member Mike Carlson asked about the surplus.

The surplus provides a cushion if some taxes are not paid. And periodically, a portion of the surplus is "given back" to taxpayers through a lower debt service levy, she said.

Harrington also gave an enrollment update for the district, which has about 4,000 students. The district opened the school year with 87 more students than it had on the last day of school in June. However, it had 84 fewer students that it had on the first day of school a year ago.

Willmar's enrollment typically decreases gradually throughout a school year. Harrington said if this school year follows the same trend as last year, enrollment by the end of the year could be less than 3,900 students.

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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