By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre school board has decided to ask local voters to approve a tax increase in May.
In two separate roll call votes Tuesday night, the board voted 5-0 to put two mill levy requests on the ballot for the May 5 election. Board members Joe Marino and Kathie Newell were not present for the vote.
"We wouldn't ask for (the increase) if we didn't need it," board chair Denise Thompson said after the meeting. She said she hopes the community will support the mill levy.
Voters will be asked to approve a tax increase of about 3.22 mills in Elementary District 16 and an increase of about 6.32 mills in High School District A. For someone with a $100,000 property inside the boundaries of both districts, that would mean a tax increase of about $22 next year, Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller told the board.
The resolution approved by the board is required by law to state a specific amount to go before the voters, but if the levy is approved, taxpayers may pay less than that amount. That is because the final mill amounts won't be calculated until August, when the district's taxable valuation and the revenue picture for the state, county and school district is known. If the district does not need 10 mills, taxes will not increase by the full amount.
The net increase will likely be less than the 9.54 mills, Miller said, because next year the district will no longer be paying about 5 mills per year for the addition built on Highland Park Early Primary School about 15 years ago. Closer to the time of the election the district will guarantee that taxes will not rise above a given amount of mills.
"What I'm projecting for you tonight is going to be the maximum - in the minds of the taxpayer it's the worst-case scenario," said Miller, who recommended the board put the levies on the ballot. He told the board that the taxpayers whose property is in both districts will probably end up with a tax increase of between 5 and 8 mills.
Together the levies would raise the general fund budget of Havre Public Schools by about $155,000. Another $208,434 will be coming to the district as a result of a net enrollment increase of five students and a school funding increase of about 2 percent approved by the state Legislature in 2003.
The levy plus the extra state money would increase the district's $10 million general fund budget by about $363,500 or about 3.8 percent, over last year's budget, Miller told the board.
School board member Todd Hanson said the district is fortunate this year to not be facing declining budgets. Rather han having to ask voters to pass a mill levy to increase taxes just to hold the budget steady like it has in years when enrollment has declined, this year the money will actually go toward making improvements for students, he said.
"I think that's a wonderful opportunity to be facing," he said, adding that the district won't have to rely on one-time rainy day money to balance the budget like it did last year.
If voters don't approve the levies, the budget will still increase by about 3 percent next year.
School board member Judy Bricker said she supports the levy. Enrollment increased slightly this year, she said, but the additional state money that will result doesn't cover the increase in operating costs.
"I thoroughly support this. ... It's totally justified in light of the expenses," she said, adding that the board hopes all voters show up at the polls to vote.
The district is expecting increases in utility costs of about 20 percent in the 2004-2005 fiscal year, which will increase the district's energy bills by about $60,000, Miller told the board.
Increases in the cost of paper, textbooks and general supplies are outpacing inflation, so the district needs more money to maintain the current level of service, he said.
"We need to provide textbooks for our kids, so we need to have the money available to do that," he said.
The district also needs more money to remain competitive for the recruitment and retention of teachers and staff in the state market, he said. The teachers are negotiating a new contract this year.
Maintenance costs are also constantly increasing, Miller said.
On May 5 voters will also decide who will fill two school board seats. The three-year terms of Kathie Newell, the board's vice chair, and board member Jim Heberly expire this year. Newell is the only person who has filed to be on the ballot so far.
The deadline to file is March 25. Anyone who is interested can get information at the Robins Administration Building.