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Final school levy set at 7.23 percent increase

The Perham-Dent School Board last Wednesday approved a final tax levy increase of 7.23 percent, bringing the school district’s 2014 total payable levy amount to just over $3 million.

This is less than the preliminary levy increase of 9.17 percent approved by the school board in September.

Levy rates are determined by the Minnesota Department of Education, and then approved by local school boards.

Several changes went into effect which led to Perham-Dent’s levy increase.

Most notable is the introduction of a new, $300 per student levy, made possible by changes at the Minnesota State Legislature this past summer.

 Those changes were made to restore revenues lost in 2001, when then-Governor Jesse Ventura altered the funding model for public education in the state.

This levy, approved by the Perham-Dent School Board, did not require a taxpayer vote. Part of the levy will be paid by the state, while local taxpayers will contribute 85 percent, or about $367,000.

One person at last Wednesday’s meeting, Ottertail resident Bernie Steeves, expressed a dislike of this new levy, and said the school board should have done more to inform people about it.

Though the levy was listed on the board’s August meeting agenda, when it was preliminarily approved, Steeves said, “Not very many people saw that. That was not communicated very well.”

“Of the several people I visit with, not one of them knew the effect of it and what it was going to do,” he added.

Board member Jim Rieber said getting information out to people can be a struggle.

“We have the information on our agendas, we put the information in the paper. That’s the communication tool we have, short of going out and knocking on every door,” he said.

Steeves suggested that, in the future, board members speak at meetings of local civic groups and other community organizations to help get the word out about significant levy changes.

Another factor in the district’s 2014 levy increase is that its Other Postemployment Benefits (OPEB) debt service levy has entered payment.

In 2008, the state allowed school districts to set up an OPEB bond and levy to cover retiree benefits not included in pensions. Perham-Dent will be paying off its OPEB debt within the next two years. Starting in 2014, that debt payment jumps from about $98,000 to $1.14 million.

Helping to balance out this increase is a decrease in the district’s debt service levy, which is dropping from about $1.2 million to $93,000. After 2014 taxes are paid, this debt will be completely paid off.

“It’s worth noting that, by the end of the 2015 year, all of our bond expenses will be paid off,” Superintendent Mitch Anderson said after the board meeting.

In other business at the meeting:

-The board accepted a letter of resignation from Kevin Kosiak as the director of the community musical. Kosiak will continue with his teaching duties.

-High school principal Ehren Zimmerman reported that this year’s college and career day was a success. In the future, Zimmerman would like to include students from Frazee and Henning, in addition to those from Wadena, Battle Lake and New York Mills, who attended this year.