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New levy appears likely

The Perham-Dent School Board has preliminarily approved a new General Education Levy of up to $300 per student.

Board members voted in favor of the levy at a meeting last week, easily meeting a state deadline of Sept. 30. The board could still opt to under-collect and levy for less than the $300 per student maximum; the final levy amount will be determined at a later date.

If the full levy is put in place, it would create about $451,000 in new annual revenue for the school district, starting in fiscal year 2015. The state would be responsible for 15 percent of this revenue, while local taxpayers would cover the remaining 85 percent, up to the $300 mark.

School districts across the state were given the option of enacting this new levy following recent changes made at the Minnesota State Legislature. The changes restore revenues lost in 2001, when then-Governor Jesse Ventura altered the funding model for education.

“The legislature gave school boards the authority to levy up to $300 per pupil (without taxpayer approval),” explained Kristi Werner, business manager for the Perham-Dent School District.

Proponents of this change believe it will offer some relief to school districts like Perham- Dent, which have had trouble getting local taxpayers to vote in favor of operating referendums.

“Perham is one of only 34 districts in the entire state of Minnesota with no (operating) referendum,” wrote Superintendent Mitch Anderson in an email to the Focus.

District leaders believe the extra revenue would be a positive change, leading to fewer reductions in staff and programming, as well as less deficit spending.

The levy, if given final approval, would last for five years, at which time the board would have the option to renew.

The public will be invited to comment on the new levy at the school district’s annual Truth in Taxation hearing, which will take place as part of the December school board meeting. The final levy amount will be finalized after that.

The levy would be imposed on residential property owners within the Perham-Dent School District. Seasonal recreational property, such as lake cabins, would not be included. Farmers and other agricultural property owners would pay based on the value of their house, a garage and one acre of land.

Property owners who want to clarify the tax value of their land may contact the Otter Tail County Assessor’s Office.

Elizabeth Huwe