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Board approves preliminary tax levy with 1.07 percent decrease in property taxes, continues push for referendum equalization at Legislature

Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 — At its meeting on Monday, Sept. 24, the South St. Paul School Board approved the preliminary tax levy for 2018 payable 2019. The preliminary levy, which is required to be approved by school districts annually by Sept. 30, represents a decrease of 1.07 percent from last year’s overall levy. Statewide, the Minnesota Department of Education estimates that this year, the average school district levy will increase by 6.4 percent.

Many factors affect a school district’s levy amount, noted Aaron Bushberger, director of finance. In SSPPS, the largest factor this year is an increase in South St. Paul property values. However, the complex formula of school funding dictates how much of that funding is allocated to districts from local property taxes and how much from state aid. This formula mix is at the core of the district’s long-standing message about the need for referendum equalization so that property owners in district’s like South St. Paul are not unfairly burdened.

“As we have shared with residents for many years, the way the state calculates property tax levies and state aid for schools is complex and unfair,” said Aaron Bushberger, SSPPS director of finance. “Several of our levies actually increased this year, but because of the increase in property values in South St. Paul, the portion of state aid decreases, resulting in the same amount of revenue for the district, but a shift to more burden on property owners.”

Bushberger shared that the district will see increases in its referendum, local options, equity and transition levies, and decreases in adjustments/abatements for the general and community services funds. The changes do not provide for additional revenue for the district, but rather the portion of money coming from local property owners versus state aid.

“This shifting mix of aid and property taxes is why we continue to fight for referendum equalization at the Legislature,” said Superintendent Dave Webb. “Equalization will help level the playing field for all Minnesota school districts and provide needed revenue for South St. Paul schools.”

The state will continue to update its formulas and the district may receive new data between now and the final approval of the levy in December. In keeping with past practice, the Board approved the maximum of the proposed levy, with the intent to continue to review levy categories for possible adjustments. Dakota County will be mailing property tax statements to homeowners in November. The district has scheduled a public hearing on the tax levy for Monday, Dec. 10, after which the School Board will vote on the final district levy.