October 8, 2007

Dassel City Council questions school officials about levy

Officials point out that if the DC levy passes, local taxpayers will pay 59% of it, with the State of Minnesota paying the remaining 41%

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The Dassel City Council questioned school officials last Monday about school district costs for technology and transportation.

Council members also questioned the estimated tax increases school officials provided in the district’s presentation about the proposed operating levy. They asked if the dollar amounts listed were on top of taxes property owners already pay for the bonds for the middle school and Performing Arts Center.

Dassel Cokato High School Principal Dean Jennissen and School Board Member Kevin Bjork presented information about the Tuesday, Nov. 6 referendum. The seven-year operating levy will raise $429 per student.

The district’s previous levy from 1985 expired, so currently Dassel Cokato is the only district in the Wright County Conference with no operating levy. Ninety percent of the districts in the state have an operating levy in place, with a state average of $710 for each pupil, and receiving $9,272 in revenue per pupil. DC currently receives $7,290 in revenue per pupil, Jennissen said.

“Local taxpayers pay 59 percent of this referendum. The State of Minnesota pays the remaining 41 percent. Without a locally approved school support referendum, DC does not receive any of this state money. The money goes to other districts,” Jennissen said.

The number one goal for the additional $429 per student is to restore smaller and more manageable class sizes for K-12, he said.

Class sizes for kindergarten through second grade will be 22 or fewer, third and fourth grades will be 25 or fewer, and fifth through eighth grades will be 28 or fewer, Bjork pointed out in the information he distributed to the council.

The second goal is to offset bus fuel and heating costs, which have increased tremendously over the past three years, Bjork said.

Both Council Members Bob Lalone and Al Dunn advised school officials to consider a user fee for transportation as a way to cut transportation costs. Dunn said when he was growing up in California, his family bought tickets for him to ride the school bus.

Jennissen said he doesn’t know of any district in the state that charges students for bus rides, and he thought it might be a state law that taxpayers provide transportation.

Dunn also suggested the school district use free open source technology so it doesn’t have to constantly pay for software licenses.

In addition, the value of the levy is obvious to people with children in DC schools, Dunn said. He advised school officials to focus on convincing those with no children or on fixed incomes how the levy will benefit them.

Lalone pointed out that the tax information provided by the district about the operating levy doesn’t show the entire tax burden.

For example, a chart school officials provided showed that a home with a market value of $175,000 would have a yearly tax increase of $143.53.

Taxpayers already are paying for the bonds for the middle school building and performing arts center, so the operating levy would be on top of that, Lalone said.

Dunn also offered school officials the use of city media to present information about the levy referendum to the community.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• paid $116,421 to Mid-Minnesota Hot Mix, Inc. of Annandale for work on the Fifth Street and Marcia Street Improvement project through Sept. 6.

The council also discussed what to do about vulgar remarks made by the work crew patching near the intersection of Centennial and Third Street to those who had to drive through the area to get to their homes. Council Member Pat Haapala said she has heard no one has apologized, as of last Monday.

• renewed the final year of a three-year contract with Waste Management of Winsted with a 2 percent inflation agreement. In 2008, a 32-gallon cart-load of residential waste will cost $8.28 a month, 64-gallon cart-load will be $8.87 a month, 96-gallon cart-load will be $9.45 a month, and recycling will be $1.91 a month.

Haapala asked if residents could individually choose a different contractor if the contractor was less expensive. City Administrator Myles McGrath said only commercial installations can opt for a different contractor. However, Waste Management’s rates are still under all the other contractors’ rates from three years ago, when the city made requests for proposals for them, he said.

• appointed Mayor Ava Flachmeyer and Dunn to a committee to analyze what the 3,300-square-foot space in the liquor store building will need to become a community room. The city still needs to pay for a tile floor, interior upgrade and entryway regardless of whether the space is rented to a business or becomes a community room, McGrath said.

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