Duluth school taxes could jump as much as 11 percentThe Duluth School Board will vote next week to set the preliminary levy amount, and administration is recommending it approve the maximum level allowed by the state as it and most others in Minnesota generally do each year.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth school taxes will go up 11 percent next year if the School Board adopts the maximum allowable local levy, as administration recommended Monday, and if voters approve two operating levy requests in November.
On the other hand taxes will go down 3 percent if voters reject the levy requests.
The Duluth School Board will vote next week to set the preliminary levy amount, and administration is recommending it approve the maximum level allowed by the state as it and most others in Minnesota generally do each year. After that level is set the board can adjust it down but not up, so school boards usually set it high to give themselves wiggle room.
The School Board will set the final property tax levy Dec. 17. Between now and then, said business services director Bill Hanson at the board’s business committee meeting Monday, much can change.
“This is very preliminary at this point,” he said. “Any impact from the November elections is not reflected in this report.”
The district’s current operating levy is expiring, which is why the total levy will fall if voters don’t approve a new operating levy.
Last year the board increased the total levy by 11.9 percent, more than double the increase taxpayers had been seeing in recent years, which members said was needed to help make annual debt payments for the Red Plan because plans to use revenue from the sales of properties such as Central High School and Rockridge Elementary hadn’t come through.
That levy generated $28.9 million. If both operating levy questions fail Nov. 5, the district will realize about $28 million in total levy revenue for its fiscal year 2015, a 3 percent decrease. If the first question passes, it would put an additional $2.5 million into the general fund and if the second question passes, another $1.8 million.
So taxpayers could see a similar increase as last year, a decrease or somewhere in between. Last year’s 11.9 percent increase meant $45 more per year for the owner of a $150,000 home.
The Nov. 5 operating levy referendum is intended to raise money to lower class sizes, buy updated books and other curriculum and help narrow the achievement gap.
Class sizes have been a hot-button issue for years. Some classrooms last year had more than 40 students. Superintendent Bill Gronseth said Monday that a few teachers were just added to some schools to help with larger classrooms, but there are still classes with more than 40 students. District officials have said failure to pass at least the first operating levy question in November would be “devastating” to schools.
Central High School deal
Also discussed Monday was the city’s request for a pedestrian and bike trail access easement across the property of the former Central High School. The board tabled a decision in July, but will move forward with a vote next week. The access was contingent on the district being granted rezoning that it wants to make the property more attractive to potential buyers.
The district will grant the easement contingent upon the approval of a Unified Development Code zoning map amendment that changes the property’s zoning to mixed-use business and R-2, which allows for a variety of housing beyond single-family. Mixed-use business allows for establishments such as restaurants, offices, medical facilities and hotels.
Board members Ann Wasson and Tom Kasper had concerns about the city and City Council not first granting the rezoning. District property and risk manager Kerry Leider assured them the easement wouldn’t be granted until the condition was met, and said the city was moving through the process.
The access is being sought for a connector piece for the proposed Duluth Traverse Trail, meant for mountain biking and to connect the city from end to end. It would run along the edge of the property.