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District taxes to increase by 4.38 percent

Only one resident questioned the Cloquet School Board during its Truth in Taxation hearing Monday, Dec. 11. James Mallery wanted to know when taxpayers would be done paying for the $3 million mistake by consultants before voters approved the buil...

Only one resident questioned the Cloquet School Board during its Truth in Taxation hearing Monday, Dec. 11. James Mallery wanted to know when taxpayers would be done paying for the $3 million mistake by consultants before voters approved the building referendum for the new middle school.

Next year will be the third year of six that property owners are on the hook for an additional $500,000, the result of a calculation error by Springsted Inc., which predicted more state aid for the building projects than the district actually got.

The board voted 5-1 to approve its current budget and next year's tax levy Monday.

Board member Ted Lammi was the dissenting vote. Touching on the same subject as Mallery, Lammi explained that he still thought his suggestion made last year - that the board under-levy for the state-allowed long-term facilities maintenance fund to give taxpayers a break - was a good one. Lammi lost the vote last year, too.

"I still think the principal is valid," Lammi said. "If a mistake is made, no matter who makes it, then really good government fixes it. We've got good government, but we'd have been really good if we'd attempted to fix that mistake."

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Earlier in the meeting, however, Lammi and District Finance Director Candace Nelis had both explained that school boards have very little say about how much they can levy taxpayers.

"As a board, we have very little independent authority to raise or lower taxes," Lammi said. "We have a little bit, but it's limited by the state. They tell us how much we can tax for how long."

Superintendent Ken Scarbrough pointed out as well that for many revenue sources, if the district lowers its levy, the aid amount will also be decreased.

The levy payable in 2018 - the amount of revenue paid by property taxes - will increase by 4.38 percent, from $6.31 million to $6.59 million. That money will actually go toward the 2018-19 school district budget, Nelis explained.

The levy paid by local tax dollars makes up only 16 percent of school district revenues, Nelis said. She pointed out that other sources include other local funds, such as fees paid for activities or classes and payments from other schools (10 percent), state (68.6 percent) and federal funds (4.7 percent), along with fees paid to the district by students and other school districts. The district's total budget for 2017-18 is $39.97 million.

The main reason for the increase this year is a bump in the long-term facilities maintenance revenue, which went from $193 per pupil unit the first year after it was approved by the state Legislature, to $282 the following year, to $380 for 2018.

In addition, many taxpayers saw an increase in their taxes for next year because the county re-assessed property values in Cloquet. An increase in property value generally means an increase in taxes.

Board to narrow superintendent applications

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In other matters Monday, school board member Dave Battaglia gave an update on the search to replace Scarbrough, who is retiring. Each board member got a packet of 21 applications to rate and a copy of a community and staff survey. They hope to narrow the search to 4-6 people for interviews on Jan. 16 and two to three people for final interviews Jan. 23.

Online company will auction desks

The board approved an agreement with Do-Bid/Oberfoell online auction company to dispose of unwanted items like old desks from the former middle school. Scarbrough said Roer's Investments wants to close on the sale of the old building Dec. 27.

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