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RF school residents can vote on tax levy

School district officials have proposed an overall tax levy increase of just under 2% to help finance the 2010-11 school year budget.

School district residents can vote yes or no on the new $18,075,561 tax levy at the 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16, Annual Meeting in the high school library. The tax levy for the 2009-10 school year was $17,728,446.

Of the nearly $300,000 increase, almost half relates to the district's effort to start a new community education program available for all residents.

Without the community ed program, Finance Director Chad Smurawa said the tax levy would only rise by 1.1%.

At Monday's Annual Meeting, Superintendent Tom Westerhaus will explain the reasons for starting the community education program.

Such a program was identified as one of the 39 "action steps" the school's district should take as part of ongoing strategic planning.

Smurawa said the school tax levy outlook for River Falls was made brighter because of an unexpected jump in state aid of almost 8%.

Smurawa said River Falls is one of only a handful of school districts statewide to benefit from such a large gain.

"We're going to get an extra $965,000," he said. "So this is huge. Most other school districts are seeing a drop in state aid and looking at double-digit property tax increases."

The reason for River Falls' good fortunes is because of lower property values. Much of state aid depends on a how district's property values are ranked -- high, low or in the middle.

Over the years, River Falls ranked high. As a result the proportion of state aid to pay for the district's general fund budget has declined.

At one time the state paid more than 60% of the school district's general fund. Last year it was down to 46.3%.

For the new school year, Smurawa said preliminary numbers project state dollars to pay for just over 50% of the district's general fund.

What that means, Smurawa said, is that River Falls' property wealth declined, proportionately, compared to the rest of Wisconsin. State government, therefore, chipped in a greater share of school aid to make up the difference.

The new tax levy goes toward financing an overall school district budget of $38, an increase of 2%.

The Annual Meeting levy vote by residents is an advisory vote. In the fall, the school board certifies that levy for the state.

Also at Monday's Annual Meeting, residents will vote on giving authorization to sell obsolete or unneeded school property and also on school board salaries.

Those annual salaries have remained unchanged for over a decade and range from $2,000-$2,400.