Archive for Thursday, July 28, 2005

USD 232 mill levy decrease forecast

July 28, 2005

Although he cautioned that some tweaking remained to be done, De Soto USD 232's top numbers cruncher said it appeared the district's 2005-2006 mill levy would decrease by nearly 4 mills.

With three new board members taking their seats a month before Monday's meeting, district budget director Ken Larsen ran through the process he and other administrators use to prepare the budget. Buoyed by a double-digit increase in the district's assessed valuation, it appears as if the budget that will be presented to the board Aug. 15 will include a 68.776 mill levy. That compared to 72.09 mill levy in the 2004-2005 budget.

"I think those mill levies are going to be very close," Larsen said.

At that mill rate, the district's share of property taxes owed on a $150,000 home in the district would be $1,140, as compared to $1,208 for 2004-2005. How much of a tax decrease, if any, the homeowners will see on an existing home depends on the change in its annual appraised valuation from the county appraiser.

The district's overall valuation increased 15 percent in the last year, Larsen said. It was the second-straight year the district has seen such a healthy increase.

"That's really taken off for us," Larsen said. "That is what's been anticipated in the bond issue as we go though the process."

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner reminded the board it had been district policy to keep the mill levy steady. In that regard, she said she was confident something near the 4-mill dip in the property tax levy would be a multi-year trend.

The anticipated decrease in the district mill levy came despite Larsen and Zoellner's recommendation the board increase its local option budget authority to the new ceiling allowed by the state. The school-funding package approved by the Legislature this spring allows districts the authority to raise property tax revenue from local option budgets equaling 27 percent of the money they receive in base state aid from the state. Previously, local option budgets were capped at 25 percent of general fund dollars.

Larsen said he anticipated the district would receive $27.1 million in general fund dollars for the coming school year, a $3.1 million increase of 2004-2005. That would be augmented with $7.3 million from the local option budget.

A projected enrollment increase of about 400 students and De Soto's share of school-funding packages passed by the Legislature this year that increased state funding to the district by $290 million accounted for the increase in general fund revenue, Larsen said.

More than offsetting the added local option authority's affect on the 2005-2006 budget was a projected 7-mill decrease in the district's capital outlay fund, Larsen said. That decrease was one of the concerns that led Larsen and Zoellner to recommend the board take advantage of the added mill levy authority.

As board member Rick Walker noted, the board would decide next month whether or not to raise the local option budget authority. But Larsen said budget numbers he would share in full next month would provide reasons for the increase.

Among those reasons were perks the state gives districts with maximum local option budgets. The De Soto district gets added revenue from two such perks. One earmarks added state per-pupil dollars for students enrolled in new classrooms.

The district would continue to receive extra money for those students attending new classrooms approved in the 2002 bond issue, Zoellner said. But would not be eligible for the extra revenue for future bond issues unless it increased its local option budget to the maximum, she said.

Of more concern was the so-called extraordinary growth fund -- a special mill levy available only to the district's fastest growing districts with maximum local option budgets.

Because of the Legislature's late action on school funding, districts will be able to raise local option budgets to 27 percent for the 2005-2006 school year without the decisions being subject to citizen protest petitions. However, Zoellner said petitions would be available to citizens for the 2006-2007 school years in districts maintaining the 27-percent rate or increasing to 29 percent, as will then be allowed.

Districts were given extra time this year to complete budgets because of Legislature's overtime decision-making on school finance. Larsen said he would present the board with a budget for publication Aug. 15. A public hearing and final approval of the budget are scheduled for Sept. 6.

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