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GMR continues to mull over ballot funding questions

Greenbush School site

One or two questions on a ballot? That was a question being mulled over by the Greenbush-Middle River School Board at its July 9 work session, as it attempted to figure out what operating levy question(s) it wanted district residents to vote on this November. The board didn’t make any official decisions at this work session.

Should it ask voters to renew the levy it has, to revoke and replace it with a increase authority, or to do both? Board members expressed differing preferences.

The district’s currently running, five-year referendum expires in fiscal year 2022. This currently running referendum produced $806.05 per pupil in fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020, and will produce $506.05 per pupil in fiscal years 2021 and 2022. What was the reason for the drop?

As GMR Superintendent Larry Guggisberg explained at a prior meeting, during the 2019 Minnesota legislative session, the legislature lowered all existing operating referendums by $300, and added this amount to a separate board approved funding formula called Local Optional Revenue. The district will receive the same amount of revenue over each of the five years, but, in those final two years, through two separate funding streams— $506.05 of voter approved operating referendum and $300 in Local Optional Revenue.

Matthew Hammer from the district’s financial advisor, Ehlers & Associates, presented to the board again, including some new information related to the tax impact of various increased operating levy options.

The board looked at various increases, including $200, $500, $625, $725, $900, and $1,275, per student. It spent additional time reviewing the tax impact of a proposed $900 per student increase ($1,406.05 per student total).
For this proposed increase, on a $75,000 property, people would pay $207 annually in taxes on this levy; these individuals pay $52 annually on the district’s current levy. On a $100,000 property, people would pay $276 in taxes on this levy; these individuals pay $69 annually on the district’s current levy, according to a table provided by Ehlers & Associates.

To view the tax impact of various other property values and operating levy amounts, visit the following link: . Then, click on the “Fall 2020 Operating Referendum Election. FY21. GMR” pdf attachment under item 5.1 of the meeting agenda and visit slides 24 and 25.

Board member Kurt Stenberg expressed his support with having just one question on the ballot— a revoke and replace question.

“One reason being our taxes have gone down so much more in the last five, six years that increasing it this much really is just going back to… what we passed five years ago if you look at your tax statements,” Stenberg said. “Because of our drop in school size and pupil units, we don’t pay much in taxes.”

Stenberg added how he thought that if the district had two questions, the renewal would pass, but expressed doubt that the second question— an increased operating levy— would pass.

Board Chairperson Shane Kilen voiced support for two questions, putting importance on the renewal question.
“If you go with the one question—to revoke and replace— and they vote it down then you don’t know what’s going to happen after the next year,” Kilen said. “You’re going to have to have it (pass that year) because if we don’t get renewed what we have, we’re in desperate… trouble.”

Board member Brandon Kuznia asked about the passage rate of a two-question ballot. Hammer commented how votes to renew an operating referendum have passed nearly 100 percent of the time. In recent years, it’s been 100 percent. Hammer also spoke to the general passage of all operating levies.

“I will say that there’s been more appetite by voters over the recent years to pass or approve operating levies,” Hammer said. “… But then it comes down from a district to district perspective of is that tax impact, tax tolerance there to support it. And that really, really does vary from district to district.”

Towards the end of the board’s discussion on potential ballot questions, Howard spoke to the district’s financial need as it relates to potential questions.

“I think we have to think hard about how much we think we need and work it backwards,” Howard said. “That’s going to help us determine how we ask for it.”

Despite the district’s COVID-19 reprieve (assistance and savings), Guggisberg has explained at prior meetings how the district still has to look towards both referendum and cost reduction options for the future, including a referendum to potentially start in Fall 2021, cost sharing with other districts, and, as a final resort, making reductions.

“Remember, we got to look into the future. This (a levy) isn’t going to solve all the problems,” Kilen said. “… We got to look three, four years ahead, not just next year.”

The district has until August 21 to adopt a resolution calling for the special election and notify the Commissioner of Education and the Auditor of each county within the district.

To see the complete story, read the July 15 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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