By Ross Markman
Residents of Havre High School and elementary school disricts can expect to pay more property taxes in 2003.
The Havre school board Thursday set the mill levies for the districts, and both, according to Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller, are reasonable.
Voters will be asked to approve them on May 7.
With the increases, a Havre resident who owns a $100,000 home can expect to pay an additional $35.67 $21.25 in high school District A taxes and $14.42 in elementary District 16 taxes. For a resident owning a $50,000 home in Havre, those amounts would be split in half.
"We believe at this point that $3 a month on a $100,000 house isn't that much," Miller said.
Ric Floren, district director of operations, agreed.
"That's a total of $14.42 not just one month," Floren said. "What you see is a single one-time increase that would spread over two payments or 12 payments depending upon how you pay your school taxes."
For those living in the Cottonwood or Davey school districts, the elementary millage does not apply. Each sets their own mills. Cottonwood, according to school board chair Beverly Peterson, has yet to set its mill levy. Davey will set its mill levy on Monday.
In the high school district, taxes would increase by about 8.81 mills to provide an additional $156,755 for the general fund. In the elementary district, taxes would increase by roughly 5.8 mills to raise another $88,318. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
"Those figures are worst-case scenarios," Miller said.
Meanwhile, the district has roughly $200,000 in employee wage increases to pay. Raising taxes, according to Floren, will help raise the necessary funds.
"We're going to save some money with some retirements. We have a plan. It's all laid out and we're in good shape," he said. "But if we have nobody retire, nobody leave, we won't have enhancements. We'll have to screw it down a little more than we did this year."
Though district enrollment is shrinking, the high school is gaining 40 students overall when it welcomes 200 freshmen next year.
"We know we'll have 40 more students at the high school next year. That's the reason for the (high school district) tax increase," Miller said.
As for the teacher raises, board member Kathie Newell said they're essential to the district's survival.
"We're realizing that we're not compensating our staff people enough to keep them," Newell said. "You kind of feel guilty giving them the increase when we're in this situation. But if we don't we're in more dire straits."
Board chairman Jim Heberly agreed.
"We've already agreed to increase wages," he said. "It'd be pretty hypocritical if we didn't increase taxes as well."
The mill levies weren't expected to be set until April 9. But Miller, who recently attended a state superintendents conference where several of his colleagues questioned when the mills had to be set, pushed the date forward.
"There's no detriment to calling this meeting some 10 days earlier than we expected. We've done our research," he said. "I don't want to leave any questions on whether we met the dates."
The confusion, Miller said, surrounded House Bill 179, which requires a school board to pass a resolution calling for a tax levy election and stating the specific amount taxes will be raised. The resolution also has to include the approximate millage.
In order to hold elections on May 7, school boards were required to pass another resolution by Thursday, stating the date and purpose of the election. The deadline to have the election ballot prepared this year is April 12. The Havre school board meets again April 9.
"It was worth calling this special meeting," Miller said. "We take this seriously and look at this very critically. We know what economic times are like."