District holds the line on mill levy
The Tonganoxie school district can chalk up another mill levy decrease, thanks in part to a property valuation increase.
While the school district doesn't get as large a percentage of its funding directly from local property taxes as the city does, any increase in property valuation is good news for the district.
This marks the second consecutive year that the school district's mill levy has dropped. For the upcoming school year, the mill levy is set for 39.3 mills. A year ago, the levy was set at 40.59 mills. And, two years ago, for the 2001-2002 school year, the district's levy was 43.66 mills. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.
The decreasing mill levies reflect the development that continues to spread across the county. According to Leavenworth County Clerk Linda Scheer, in November 1999, the assessed property valuation for the school district was $41.4 million. In contrast, the July 2003 assessed valuation for the school district is $62.4 million.
School Superintendent Richard Erickson said another factor leading to the mill levy cut is that the state plans to accelerate tax payments to school districts next year.
Normally, Erickson said, school districts receive their state tax distributions twice a year -- on Jan. 29 and July 20. Because of the accelerated tax payment schedule, the district will receive those payments as scheduled, but will also receive a third payment on June 5, 2004.
"That has a lot to do with the lowering of the mill levy, along with the increase in assessed valuation," Erickson said.
It's not all good news to receive three state payments in one year.
"The down side of that is that the following year we're going to probably need to raise the levy for the local option budget to have enough monies to operate during the 2004-2005 school year," Erickson said.
Currently, the district has a mill levy that is set at 22.6 percent of the school district's general fund budget.
In the Tonganoxie school district, local taxpayers pay 62 cents of every dollar raised by the LOB and the state pays 38 cents, Erickson said, noting that he assumes the state plans to continue funding the LOB.
"It would be devastating if they didn't, not only to our district" Erickson said. "Most districts in the state do have an LOB ... I don't see that happening."
For the 2003-2004 school year, the LOB will generate $1.8 million. Since initially levying taxes for the LOB six years ago, the district has increasingly relied on the funds.
Erickson said the LOB began here with a plan to pay for textbooks and technology.
"But since that time, it has come to where it funds right now all of our curriculum supplies, some of our textbook expenditures, and some of our technology expenditures," he said.
Erickson noted funds in this year's LOB will pay for some of the district's utilities, heating and electrical expenses.
"We're having to transfer more and more general fund expenditures over to the LOB in order to have the budget authority in the general fund to handle salary increases and some of the traditional general fund expenditures," Erickson said.
For the 2003-2004 school year, the general fund budget as published is set at $8,775,191. But Erickson said that is an inflated budget to accommodate a possible increase in student enrollment. It's likely, he said, that the district will live by the figures in the working budget, which shows a general fund budget of $8,346,790. Erickson noted that this was fairly close to the actual expenditures for the 2002-2003 school year general fund budget, which totaled $7.98 million.
This year's capital outlay published at $899,471. But Erickson noted that the capital outlay working budget is set at $499,500, which is up from the 2002-2003 capital outlay expenditures of $327,340.
The district's bond and interest fund, set at $261,000 is basically the same as it has been for at least the past two years.
At Monday night's board meeting, board member Richard Dean questioned Erickson about the planned $146,000 increase in the LOB for the coming school year.
"If we didn't increase our LOB this year ... could we fund everything without that?" Dean asked.
Erickson answered: "I don't think so. ... My hope is that with this proposed increase in the LOB that we can still have some wiggle room. We just don't know right now what enrollment's going to be."
Dean said, when planning budgets, it's important to think about taxpayers, too.
"I know we have to prepare for hard times, but a lot of our patrons are having hard times right now," Dean said. "We don't know what's going to happen three or four years from now with the state."
Dean asked if the district would have to drop any programs for the year if the LOB increase didn't go through.
"I don't know if we'd have to drop anything," replied Erickson. "It would be a real tight squeeze."
Dean countered: "We're going to hit that tight squeeze if we don't watch what we're doing."
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