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Annual School District meeting: Vote held on tax levy

A preliminary estimate for the school portion of property tax bills in the River Falls area says they'll rise 2.1%.

Translated: For a $200,000 house that didn't change much in value, the homeowner might expect to pay between $45-$50 extra next year in school-related taxes.

These kinds of figures will come up at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, during the school district's Annual Meeting at the media center at River Falls High School.

If you're an eligible voter in the school district, you can vote yes or no on the new $18,276,776 tax levy for the 2012-13 school year. Last year's total levy was $17,894,533.

Finance Director Chad Smurawa said the tax levy is still subject to change.

The figures are based on "conservative" financial data, meaning if the tax levy picture changes, it would likely change in favor of property taxpayers.

Smurawa said there remain three big unknowns:

  • State school aid
  • The district property valuation
  • Official student enrollment (which affects state aid).

Smurawa said by mid-October these three unknowns will be known. The school board will vote on the official tax levy later that month.

Smurawa is estimating a 2% decline in the overall school district's property value. This includes chunks of both Pierce and St. Croix counties.

Since the 2008 Great Recession, the district's property valuation has declined 5.4%, 4.6% and 5.2% respectively.

In the 1990s and as recently as 2006, the district's property valuation rose by double digits.

The new local tax levy will go toward supporting the school district's 2012-13 budget of $29,370,000. Mostly state aid and some federal aid covers the rest.

At Monday night's Annual Meeting, Smurawa will outline the school district's budget finances, breaking them down by categories and explaining the proposed levy.

Superintendent Tom Westerhaus will also deliver his annual "State of the School District" speech.

Annual salaries for the various positions on the school board will be approved -- either to continue them as they are or, if someone from the audience proposes, to vote on new salaries.

The district will also ask Annual Meeting attendees to give approval for the sale of unused or obsolete equipment and supplies.

The Annual Meeting will be preceded by the 7 p.m. regular school board meeting and by a 6 p.m. special board meeting to approve the second round of bond sales from the 2011 school referendum.

Due to historic low interest rates for borrowing, Smurawa says the sale of $7.6 million worth of bonds looks very favorable for the school district. He's hoping to be able to lock in the district at a 2.15% interest rate.

A roughly $12-million bond sale for the referendum was held in January. The interest rate for that sale was 2.55%.

After this second and final round of selling bonds, Smurawa said it appears as if the school district will pay off all the referendum borrowings and interest in 15 years -- instead of 18 years.

In addition, taxpayers will benefit from the much-lower interest rates for borrowing.

A person owning a $100,000 home who was first expected to pay about $30 a year to help finance the referendum may end up paying as little as $10 or less.

Three questions on the Nov. 8, 2011, referendum were asked.

Only one question, for just over $19 million, was passed by district voters.

It proposed upgrading and renovating energy, security and mechanical systems, plus indoor air quality at the various schools. Improvements were also proposed for the school-bus garage.

That work got underway this summer. It will resume in a bigger way and be completed by late next summer.