By Brenden West
Two ballot issues will appear before Easton Valley School District voters Feb. 4, and there are questions over how those referendums will affect the district's property tax asking.
District business manager Adam Crigger said that's not a surprise, given the complexity of school financing.
"I think that school finance is a very difficult thing to get a grasp of," Crigger said. The district held a public information meeting Thursday to try to address some of the concerns by local residents.
"The whole point of our meeting was to produce facts that have credible sources behind them," he said.
EVSD needs voter approval so it can have the authority to spend a 1 percent sales tax and have the option to increase its Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) to $1.34 (per $1,000 assessed property value). Crigger said the school district already has a board approved 33-cent PPEL but EV needs to pass the ballot issue to contemplate receiving more PPEL funds.
Neither measure will increase property taxes if approved, Crigger said, since the district already receives the sales tax from the state and the PPEL increase only gives the school board authority to tax up to that amount. EV superintendent Robert Lagerblade said the district is seeking voter approval because the law requires it and EV wants to position itself to make necessary improvements to its facilities.
"Very few districts don't utilize a voter-approved PPEL," Lagerblade said. "The reason is fairly straight forward... We’re in older buildings and you have to anticipate minor things and major things."
On Thursday, Crigger and Lagerblade explained the stance of the school board. Surrounding districts like Northeast and Maquoketa have made infrastructure improvements to their facilities. EV administrators feel they need to make similar upgrades in order to keep pace.
"Why not Easton Valley?" Lagerblade said. "We may decide we'd like to go forward on some sort of projects."
The district also has no authority to spend the sales tax because of last year's Preston and East Central merger. Crigger said the district hasn't produced a revenue purpose statement since it's newly formed. Voters need to say "yes" or the district can't spend those sales tax dollars it already receives.
With a PPEL, EV can finance specific building improvement projects, such as maintenance, construction and property purchases. Without the PPEL, the district has to pull infrastructure dollars from its current board PPEL revenues as well as other areas of the district budget. Crigger said doing that wouldn't "dry up" the budget.
"But it would start to erode," he said. The school board has scheduled visitations with architects to discuss possible plans for potential future renovations.
Approving the PPEL measure doesn't increase the current levy above zero either. Crigger said the school board would convene during budget sessions to decide if it needs the full $1.34 or something less.
"We could do 50 cents or something in between zero and the full $1.34," he said.
Crigger added that it's also possible the district would decrease other funds to offset what it would potentially increase its PPEL to. As far as the property tax rate, he said EV's rate is lower than it was before the Preston-East Central merger. The rate right now is $12.02 (per $1,000 assessed property value), a figure Crigger said is lower than surrounding districts.
The ballot issues will appear on the Feb. 4 voting day from 12-8 p.m. in the Miles City Hall. The district needs a simple majority from voters to have authority for its 1 percent sales tax and to increase its PPEL.