By Ross Markman
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller has informed more than 300 people at more than 15 community meetings about the mill levy set for the 2002-03 school year, advising them why the increase should be approved on Tuesday.
Voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Havre High School gym. School districts throughout the state will also hold their elections.
"You only get one chance to vote. You either pass it now or there's no other options," Miller said. "Anytime we ask the public to help support our schools is diligently looked at by myself and the trustees. My job is to make people understand the facts."
The levy, set in March, would increase the district's general fund by more than $240,000, or 2 percent of the entire proposed budget of about $10 million.
With the increase, a Havre resident who owns a $100,000 home would pay an additional $35.67 $21.25 in high school District A taxes and $14.42 in elementary District 16 taxes. A person owning a $50,000 home in Havre would pay half those amounts.
For those living in the Cottonwood or Davey school districts, the elementary millage does not apply. Each district sets its own mills.
In the high school district, taxes would increase 8.81 mills, while in the elementary district they would be raised 5.8 mills. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Those figures, according to Miller, are "worst-case scenarios" and actually could be less.
The proposed mill levies, Miller said, are necessary to offset the costs of running existing district programs, to assist in paying districtwide operation costs, and to implement a number of education enhancements.
Foremost on the list of enhancements, Miller said, is hiring a first-grade and a third-grade teacher in an effort to reduce class size. If the mill increase is not approved, he said, the teacher hirings would be impossible.
In addition to revenue generated by the mill increase, Miller anticipates another $240,000 the district will have because of savings from things like teacher retirements and no longer having to heat the Devlin School, which is being turned into a Boys and Girls Club.
The district also has to spend more money almost $320,000, Miller said on employee compensation. Plus, Miller has budgeted $80,000 for higher costs for electricity, heating, books and supplies, leaving the district at its goal a balance of $80,000.
About $60,000 of that would be spent to hire the two teachers, Miller said, while $20,000 would likely go toward the Havre Public Schools phonics program.
If the levy isn't approved, the district would have to consider reductions not improvements.
Historically, Miller said, the mill levy has always been approved by a large margin.
"That's a sign of a community who knows the school district issues," he said.
No one in the community has publicly opposed the tax increase. One person, Jack Spitzer, wrote a letter to the editor in the Havre Daily News expressing his opposition of the levy. A week later, after visiting with Miller, Spitzer wrote another letter supporting it.
"I guess I didn't understand where funding was at prior to school consolidation. They're not in a position to fund anything additional if they don't add the levy," Spitzer said.
Rick Stevens, assistant general manager at Hill County Electric and Triangle Telephone cooperatives, agreed. Stevens was in attendance when Miller addressed his company.
"Nobody likes to see large mill levies. But I am not going to come out and say we need to undercut the education of the youngsters in our area," he said.
"From my understanding, this is a worst-case scenario. I'm anticipating (Miller) will find additional ways to cut expenses," Stevens added. "Therefore, I would vote in favor of the mill levy."