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Perham school levy: Will the fifth time be the charm?

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Perham-Dent School District Superintendent Mitch Anderson (standing, right), gave a presentation to a small handful of community members about the upcoming levy referendum on Tuesday evening.

The Perham-Dent School District is less than two weeks away from its fifth levy attempt in five years, and district leaders have begun a final push to get their message out in hopes that, this time, taxpayers will vote 'yes.'

On Tuesday, school board members and district administrators held their first of four scheduled town hall-style meetings with the public. The meetings were planned in an effort to be more transparent with voters about what the levy entails, what the money will be used for, and what it will cost taxpayers.

The meetings have been designed to give the public some financial history about the district, as well as information about the Capital Projects Referendum it is seeking this year.

Compared to the four previous referendums, Superintendent Mitch Anderson explained, "This is different. This is a response to the requests that we've had from voters in the past. This is tangible, specific. People like that."

This year's referendum asks for less money out of the pockets of individual taxpayers by spreading the burden across a wider tax base (including seasonal/recreational and agricultural property owners, which past levies would have excluded or at least partially excluded).

Also, the revenue generated from this type of referendum must be used only for specific, designated purposes - it cannot be put into the general fund. Perham-Dent has shown that it would use the funds primarily for building maintenance and technology upgrades.

The five-year levy would provide the district with an additional $440,000 per year, at a cost of $45 per year to the owner of a $200,000 home (school levies are funded with property taxes). For the owner of a $100,000 home, the cost would be $18 per year; for a $300,000 home, $72.

Just four members of the public showed up at Tuesday's meeting. There was very little discussion, other than a few positive comments made about the district's willingness to listen to voters and come up with a compromise for this year's levy request.

"I think it's a positive sale," said resident Bernie Steeves.

In past years, Steeves has been an outspoken member of the 'vote no' camp. But this year, he has said, he's in favor of the levy, since it will cost taxpayers less and he can see exactly where the money will be going.

"I really think the school board has done their due diligence in separating the 'wants' from the 'needs' of the district, really narrowing down (the amount they're asking for)," said Anderson. But even if this levy passes, he added, "it would just be a band-aid to get the district through the next few years."

Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, April 3 to decide the fate of the referendum. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in three locations: Dent Senior Center, Ottertail Community Center and Perham Area Community Center.

Those looking for more information before then may attend one of three public meetings coming up: Tuesday, March 27 at Dent School at 7 p.m.; Wednesday, March 28 at Ottertail Community Center at 7 p.m.; and Thursday, March 29 at the Perham High School auditorium at 7 p.m.