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As residents receive property tax statements, school district continues work to ease burden on homeowners

Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 — Earlier this fall, the South St. Paul School Board approved the preliminary tax levy for 2019 payable 2020picture of house . In keeping with past practice, the Board approved the maximum for the proposed levy with the intent of continuing to review levy categories for possible adjustments. Since then, South St. Paul Public Schools (SSPPS) officials worked with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to reduce the overall increase and ease the burden on property owners. 

“It is typical for school districts to approve the preliminary tax levy at the maximum allowed in order to maintain flexibility,” Aaron Bushberger, director of finance, said in September. “Doing so provides the district time to work with the MDE and reduce the overall amount, which we are committed to doing.”  

SSPPS homeowners will see a 5.83 percent increase on their 2019 Payable 2020 property tax levy, which is less than the 8.3 increase preliminarily approved by the board in September. Bushberger said that the district is still looking at a few additional options with the hope of lowering the 5.83 increase even more. 

Every year the district reviews a number of factors that influence how local tax levies are calculated. A portion of this year’s increase was due to the district’s recent purchase of the River Heights Professional Building. However, a significant factor in the proposed increase was the result of rising property values. 

“This year, South St. Paul saw an increase in property values of over 12 percent, which is good for homeowners,” he said. “But that increase in property values means the state provides less in aid and instead shifts more onto the taxpayer. The amount of revenue coming into the district does not change, but how the revenue gets divided between local taxes and state aid does.” 

This state aid shift is the reason that SSPPS and similar districts have lobbied the Legislature for years to change the state’s outdated referendum equalization formula. “As we have been saying for years, the state’s funding formula is broken,” said Superintendent Dave Webb. “We need improved equalization so that we can level the playing for all Minnesota school districts, including South St. Paul.”  

Dakota County started mailing property tax statements on Nov. 13 and will continue through next week. The district has scheduled a public hearing on the tax levy for Monday, Dec. 9, after which the School Board will vote to certify the final district levy.