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Willmar School Board adopts levy increase

Willmar School District property taxes for its taxpayers will increase next year after the Willmar School Board on Monday approved the levy. The largest reason for the increase is the need to install a fire suppression system at Willmar Middle School, required for the two science classroom additions set to open in January. Here work is shown n September on new boilers, part of the larger project. (Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo)

WILLMAR — Property taxes for Willmar Public Schools will increase 13 percent in 2017.

Pam Harrington, the school district's business and finance director, explained the changes in the levy at the Truth-in-Taxation hearing Monday evening.

The School Board approved the levy after the hearing. No member of the public attended the hearing.

The school share of property taxes for its taxpayers will increase from $7.8 million this year to $8.8 million next year.

While many parts of the levy may have changed due to state formula shifts, the largest reason for the increase in taxes is the need to install a fire suppression system, including sprinklers and a fire wall, at Willmar Middle School. The work was needed in order to proceed with two science classroom additions which are set to open in January.

Most of the increase comes in the levy for the general fund, Harrington said. The general fund pays for the daily operation of the school district. In addition to the general fund, the levy includes operating funds approved by the district's voters, a community education levy and payments on bonds for the district's building program which includes a new elementary school.

The school district has a general fund budget of $50 million this school year and an overall budget of $60 million, Harrington said. The state of Minnesota provides about 85 percent of the revenue for the district.

The school district's budget cycle varies from cities and counties that are also having tax hearings this month, she said. Their budgets run on calendar years, so they are approving property taxes and the next year's budgets at the same time of year.

For school districts, the fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30, and the levy approved Monday will be collected in 2017 and used for the 2017-18 school year. The budget for 2017-18 will be approved next spring.

The local levy is changing, "but it doesn't always mean we have a change in how much comes in," she said. Changes in the state's funding formulas could cause local taxpayers to pay more for some items in the budget while the state pays less, or vice versa.

The Minnesota Department of Education "calculates the levy, and it's detailed calculations; this year's calculations were 38 pages long," she said.

Harrington said she has been asked how much of the budget is available for "board discretion."

Some parts of the budget are restricted by the state. For instance, funding for health and safety, long-term facilities maintenance and capital expenditures are restricted, she said.

The board may allocate other funds as it wishes, but the district's money is fully allocated, she said. Salaries and benefits for the staff that serves students make up about 77 percent of the district's general fund expenses.

In general, "if something new (like a new program) comes in, something else needs to leave," she said.

Harrington said the information presented at the hearing will be available on the district's website at willmar.k12.mn.us.

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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