By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre school board has approved the final budget for fiscal year 2005, which includes a 4.6 percent tax increase for property owners in Havre.
The board unanimously approved a budget of $6.4 million for High School District A and $8.3 million for Elementary District 16.
While the overall number of mills has increased, the total amount is less than voters authorized earlier this year.
"As a result of some good nonlevy revenues, and holding back on some expenditures, we were able to assess the taxpayers less than they approved," Floren said.
By a two-thirds majority, voters in May approved a tax increase of 3.22 mills for the elementary district and 6.32 mills for the high school district. The actual number that will be assessed is 2.26 and 4.94, Floren said.
The overall package calls for the district to assess taxpayers 215.08 mills, up about 10 from last year. It includes 127.81 mills in the elementary district and 87.47 in the high school district.
The value of a mill is $14,866 in the elementary district and $17,273 in the high school district. The 10-mill increase means the owner of a $100,000 home in Havre will pay an extra $23 a year.
When presenting the final budget to the school board on Tuesday, district operations director Ric Floren said the budget allows the district not to cut any educational programs and to pay for higher compensation packages for district employees that were negotiated earlier this year.
"It balances the needs of our students versus the ability of the taxpayer to pay," Floren said.
In a memo provided to school board members, Floren said he is concerned that declining nonlevy revenue is forcing more tax burden on property owners.
"Unfortunately the result is a transfer of the revenue to property taxes, which are already too high," he wrote.
The budget for fiscal year 2004-05 contains a $363,000 increase in general fund money for the two school districts. The general funds needs to cover pay increases, rising utility bills and inflation, Floren said Wednesday.
Floren said the district's coffers were bolstered by higher-than-anticipated oil and gas revenues, increased state funding and a boost from one-time vehicle fees. He cautioned board members during Tuesday's meeting that the increased revenue was "an anomaly" and to prepare for less income in future years.
One significant change in the budget is the absence of money earmarked for debt repayment. Last year the district paid off the second of two large loans in the elementary district that it had refinanced in the 1990s.
Refinancing allowed the district to pay off the loans more quickly and saved the district more than $1 million, Floren said.
HPS is now "debt-free for the first time in a long time," he told the school board on Tuesday.