Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 8, 2004

HLWW levy fails by 174 votes

By Jane Otto

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district voters narrowly defeated the district’s request for an operating levy Tuesday.

It’s the second straight year voters said “no” to a tax levy, but Superintendent George Ladd saw a positive in this year’s results.

In 2003, 67 percent of 3,472 residents voted against the levy, while only 51 percent of 4,368 voters said “no” Tuesday.

“There are a lot of positives here. If 1 percent more voted ‘yes,’ it would have passed,” Ladd said. “The board has to digest what we have and come back to reach that 51 or 52 percent.”

Digesting the results is what Board Chair John Lideen was doing Wednesday morning.

“I don’t know what to think,” Lideen said. “I’m still pondering over the whole vote, but it’s not the end-all.”

With dwindling reserves and an existing levy expiring in two years, it’s likely the board will ask voters again to consider raising their taxes to support the district.

Two years ago, the state took over school funding, but has frozen the per pupil unit amount it gives the district.

Unless the district can get additional funds, HLWW expects to spend down the $400,000 it has in reserves, unless cuts are made.

“If we truly get to that point, then, they’ll have to be some reductions,” Ladd said. “We have to continue to educate the public as to why (an operating levy) is needed.”

The board, which meets tonight, will consider its options, Ladd said.

“We still have to be optimistic about it and work on something for next spring,” Lideen said.

A mayoral reaction

The news of a defeated levy surprised the Winsted, Waverly, and Howard Lake mayors, all of whom publicly asked voters to “consider supporting a new operating levy.”

“I thought it was a done deal,” Winsted Mayor Don Guggemos said.

Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith expressed disappointment with the HLWW vote.

“Our taxes are not that high,” Smith said. “I would hate to see the school have to cut programs.”

According to information the district presented, HLWW ranks 333 out of 342 Minnesota districts in the amount of school taxes residents pay.

Waverly Mayor Charlie Bush, who is also a HLWW High School teacher, said, possibly, the high voter turnout and a lengthy ballot might have led to the levy’s defeat.

“That’s something we certainly have to look at,” Bush said. “I have faith and hope that it will be presented again and it will pass, so we can continue to have a good school system.”

A mix-up

Wednesday morning brought some confusion to district voters as the Minnesota Secretary of State’s web site and a Twin Cities TV station reported the levy as passing.

As of Friday, the secretary of state’s web site showed the levy passing 1,679 to 1,396. The totals only included Wright County, and not McLeod and Carver counties.

Sean Denham of the secretary of state’s office said counties are not required to send results from municipalities and school districts.

Considering the mix-up the incomplete results caused, Denham said, “That’s something we’ll have to look into.”

For a short time, confusion reigned at the district office until all the votes were counted and people notified of the results.

“That confusion turned to, I don’t know what the word is,” Ladd said, “I guess, disappointment, and now, anxiety.”

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