Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 28, 1999

LP school and city meet as district looks at future levy referendum

By Luis Puga

The Lester Prairie School Board hosted a joint meeting with the Lester Prairie City Council last Monday to discuss future planning between city and school.

Discussion began where the two entities had left it at their previous meeting. The board's main interest was to see whether any housing developments or additions were on the way for the city.

On the whole, the city replied that no such developments are planned. However, the council said that currently there are about a dozen or so lots in the city that are currently available, the majority being in the Prairie Meadows site.

As in previous discussions, the possible development of the Klaustermeier property was discussed. The city indicated that their are no new changes in that possibility.

It was also noted that the Ernst development outside of the city was proceeding, but that the owners have no interest in being annexed into the city.

In general, Mayor Eric Angvall insisted that in order to interest a developer, the city should have land within its boundaries. Without any such land, he felt developers would simply "walk away."

Looking to the city's borders, he said such possibilities have come and gone in the past. Some possibilities such as the land between the city and the Lester Prairie Sportsman Club was available, but that deals had soured and caused the landowners to withdraw any such annexations indefinitely.

The school board turned its interest to business.

Council member Galen Hochstein replied that the city is concentrating on keeping the businesses it has. In general, he said another issue is the cooperation of the banks and lenders. In terms of the local bank, it was said that the size of the bank kept its involvement in to a minimum in economic development.

The two bodies did discuss the acquisition of a grant writer to be shared between the school district and the city. Both agreed that a lack of time to research grants and other aid might be a hindrance to the community economic development.

The grant writer, as proposed, would be shared between the two entities, each creating a job description of duties that the individual would need to fulfill. The grant writer would be hired for a year on a probationary basis.

Both boards felt that the business community should also be involved in long range planning.

Turning to Fred Holasek, who is a member of the Lester Prairie Business Association, the two entities felt that any decisions should be made by the whole community as a united front.

Holasek replied that he thought the idea of a grant writer would receive positive support from the businesses in town.

The school board plans to meet with the city's planning commision to discuss some of the issues discussed with the city.

Levy referendum

The school board began its preliminary analysis of a possible excess levy referendum with a presentation from Joel Sutter, a financial advisor from Ehlers and Associates Inc.

Ehlers noted that an excess levy referendum is a complicated process, with many rules and regulations, and that the laws concerning such an option have undergone many changes recently.

An excess levy referendum would empower the board to increase the tax levy on properties in the area. That money would be channeled to the school and the state would equalize the amount up to a certain amount per pupil unit, in this case $415.

Sutter began by presenting the board with a timeline for the referendum.

He said that the board had to adopt a resolution calling for a special election at least 49 days prior to the deadline. As such, the resolution must be passed no later than Sept. 14 with the election on Nov. 2.

At the same time, the board also has to notify the county auditors of the counties within its district of the special election.

At $415 per pupil unit, Sutter said the total referendum revenue would be $239,358. This amount would be the maximum that the state would equalize. The state would kick in about 70 percent of that money, about $168,719, with the levy at $70,639.

If the referendum asked for just $400 per pupil unit, the total revenue would be $230,707, with $68,085 coming from the local taxpayers, and the state contributing $162,621.

Another scenario analyzed was setting the levy for $450. In this case, the levy revenue would be $257,433, with the state handing in $168,719, the same as the maximum it would equalize. The rest of the money, $88,714, would have to come from the district.

Of the numbers crunched for the $415 scenario, Sutter said it was "not a bad deal for the taxpayers of this district."

Other concerns include how long the levy will last. Sutter said the time span must indicated on the ballot, with the maximum being 10 years.

Of the state's changes in the laws, Sutter said the direction is to make the process better for the districts, which includes raising the amount the state will equalize.

If the state raised the equalization amount after Lester Prairie passes the referendum, the board could call on another vote to take advantage of the additional equalization rate.

Sutter felt that the reverse, where the state lowers the equalization rate, was not likely. However, if it did happen, the district would need to decide if it would want to make up the difference in the rate from local taxpayers.

Another change in state law assigns a percentage of monies to come with open enrollment students. This is as long as the district has more open enrollment students coming in than going out, which Lester Prairie does.

In a related issue, the board heard from the co-presidents of the Lester Prairie Education Association, Joe Scoblic and Cari Glaser. The two teachers inquired as to how the money from the referendum might be spent.

Of particular interest to Scoblic and Glaser was the possibility of a scenario where the voters of the district would approve the referendum, but not bonding for a new school building.

Scoblic said that such a scenario would mean the district would have additional funds for new programs, without any room to implement them. He also noted that the levy monies could not be used for construction of any kind.

The board replied that how the money will be used has yet to be determined and will probably be done through discussions with the staff. The board said it would come up with a needs list which could be fulfilled with the levy money.

Moreover, the board said that it hopes to show that without the referendum, it could not operate an additional facility.

Scoblic said that the school currently operates well pointing out the work of Superintendent James Redfield. He added that the district doesn't need to pass the levy to operate the school as is and pointed out $560,000 that the district had in reserve, according to numbers the education association had obtained from the June 30 budget report.

He added that the bond issue and the levy has to go hand in hand, and the public had to be made aware of the consequences of its votes.

Redfield said that both issues would require numerous public meetings in which such issues would be discussed. He added that the bonding issue would take some time to plan and did not expect a vote on the issue until May of next year.

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