The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Ledger Publisher 

Trustees ask for May 8 levy

 

March 14, 2018



The Cardwell School District Board of Trustees voted last week to take a $68,000 school levy to the voters at a May 8 special election. It will be the first time the district has sought a levy in 30 years.

Board members Trent Biggers, Dawn Lewton, and Anne Marie Carey all voted in favor of the levy that will take place at a polling election at the school.

According to District Clerk Lisa Morgan, the approximate increase a taxpayer would see on their bill for a $100,000 home is $29, and the number for a $200,000 home is $58.

Morgan said when a school runs an election or asks voters for permission to tax them in support of the school, they are required to state what the impact will be to the checkbook of the voters.

Prior to the March 7 vote, Board Chair Biggers said the district has been compensating their budgets for several years by dipping into metal mines funds.

“The board finds themselves in a position they are not comfortable doing that anymore and want to go to voters,” he said.

Lewton stressed the levy would only be for one year.

SB307

The board also had a nearly hour long discussion on Montana Senate Bill 307 that was passed in 2017.

Morgan said the 2017 legislature, in an effort to solve budgeting shortfalls, put a few items of school financing back on the plates of the local taxpayers.

“Legislation was passed which now allows schools to use permissive levies, that is, levies they are not required to ask permission for. They did however, want to make schools be transparent in their permissive levies, now requiring schools to advertise what levies they would be imposing, the change in mills, the change in dollars, and what it means to the local taxpayers, essentially, how it affects their check books,” Morgan said. “The required advertisement is a ‘best guess’ estimate, as some figures will not be finalized until August (Taxable Valuations), so schools are not bound to these advertisements. In order to ‘keep the door open’ to access some of that funding these permissive levies now allow, schools must adhere to the SB 307 requirement for them to post their intentions. If a school does not post the expected changes to non-voted levies, they will not be able to impose those non-voted levies in August when they finalize their budgets.”

In the case of Cardwell, Morgan said they are asking for a Mill Levy in 2018, and if the voters say “Yes” to that request, then the school will have no need to utilize the permissive levies.

“If the voters do not pass the general fund mill levy, then the school will be looking to solve its budgeting shortfalls with the use of these permissive levies. So we are required to post our intentions and keep those doors open,” she said.

Similar permissive levies did exist prior to last year’s Legislature with Morgan using the Transportation Fund as an example.

“The school does not have to take this matter to a vote each year, as Montana State Law already states that school districts are responsible for providing transportation to and from school, therefore, the school determines how much they need to pay their drivers and put gas in their buses, and essentially gives the bill to their tax payers,” she said. “Probably the biggest change was to the Building Reserve Fund - up until last years legislature, if a school wanted to put money in their Building Reserve Fund (for maintenance and upkeep of buildings and facilities) they had to run an election and ask the voters for permission to tax them. Now, schools can permissively levy for those funds, but this permissive levy is restricted to $15,000 + $100 for each student enrolled.”

Morgan added they could use SB 307 to show the big picture.

“While we are required to only post the non-voted levies, we may post the overall affect, which could show a decrease in some mills, which could translate to a decrease in total levy. A lot of school districts are choosing to post notices for all funds to be completely transparent with their voters, she said.”

 

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