By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN The Dassel-Cokato School Board was presented options for the fall levy by Northland Securities at last Monday’s meeting.
“It’s a complicated conversation,” said Superintendent Jeff Powers. “We are trying to do the best to meet the needs of our students while keeping costs low for our taxpayers.”
All of the options presented would be tax-neutral for residents in the district, due to a current bond being paid off in 2015, according to DC Business Manager Tina Palmer.
Although taxpayers would not see an increase in their property taxes because of the levy, they would also not see a decrease, with the options presented, she added.
These options come in two forms: a building bond and renewing the current operating levy; or, increasing the operating levy by the same amount the taxpayers are currently paying for the bond that will be paid off, Palmer said.
When asking taxpayers to pass a building bond, the money would have to be used for specific projects, Palmer noted.
Currently, the district has several projects that would fit under the category of a building bond, such as:
• new roofs;
• grinding down and resurfacing the parking lot in front of the high school, which is currently level with the curb;
• updating technology throughout the district for the digital learning initiative; and,
• updating the boilers and the HVAC system to be more efficient, thus saving money for the district.
The estimated cost for new roofs is about $400,000; and to repair the parking lot, $300,000-500,000.
Repairs and upgrades to the district’s HVAC system can be done in phases, and a facilities study completed in 2009 categorized the needs into high-priority, recommended/medium-priority, and low-priority/long-term needs.
Many of the projects in the HVAC high-priority category, which have an estimated total cost of $405,000, have been, or are being, completed, according to Powers.
Recommended projects for the HVAC system are estimated to cost the district an additional $1.6 million, and the low-priority/long-term needs are estimated to cost about $10.5 million.
“The systems in the building function well, they are just aging and will have to be updated,” Powers said.
Three bond amounts were presented as options to the school board, $3 million, $6 million, and $7 million.
One of the issues the district faces when asking taxpayers to pass a bond is coming up with building projects costs that would equal those amounts, Palmer said.
The school board also discussed the pros and cons of a building bond versus an operating levy, Palmer said.
Sometimes a building bond is easier to pass than an operating levy because taxpayers know exactly what the money is being used for, Palmer noted.
However, a bond also taxes agricultural land, and a levy taxes only homestead property (the home, garage, and one acre of land).
Also, with a levy, the state pays a portion, sharing the burden with taxpayers in the district, Palmer said.
With a building bond, the burden is all on the taxpayer, she added.
A levy can also be used by the district in any way it sees fit, meaning it would have the flexibility to use operating levy money to complete projects for which it might otherwise bond.
The school board asked Palmer and Powers to present them with information regarding what is being done with the current levy, and what the district would do with new levy money.
There was also some discussion about getting statistics regarding the passage of operating levies versus building bonds, Palmer said.