The Cloquet School District Board unanimously approved a 2.15% increase to its 2021 levy following its Truth in Taxation hearing Monday, Dec. 14. No residents attended the public meeting in-person, though the presentation was available to the public via YouTube.
"The 2.15% increase is much lower than in recent years," said district business manager Candace Nelis.
The approximately $150,000 increase brings the total levy to $7.14 million — about 16% of the district’s $43.8 million total budget. State, federal and other local sources make up the other 84% of the budget.
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Nelis said possible reasons for changes in the district tax levy include changes in the adjusted net tax capacity, enrollment, legislation and debt excess reduction.
"Normally we have a debt excess reduction because we levy for 105% of our debt service to make up for any delinquent or unpaid taxes," Nelis said. "As our fund balance grows, if it gets over a certain percentage, we have to take a debt excess reduction to our actual levy. We didn't have that this year because we used some of our fund balance to pay for the first year of long-term facility maintenance bonds."
The largest expense the levy will fund is debt payments, which will account for nearly 62% of the levy. Voters approved a referendum in 2015 to build a new middle school, which accounts for a large portion of the debt service payments, said Superintendent Michael Cary.
"We're low on the day-to-day side of things, but high on debt service which brings us to about average for the Arrowhead," he said.
Nelis also pointed out that the levy does not determine the district's budgeted expenditures and that the district is limited to how high they can set their levy by the state Legislature.
"We can't go above a certain level without voter approval," Nelis said. "We don't make this determination entirely ourselves like the county and city governments, we're strictly held to what the Legislature says."
School board chair Ted Lammi expressed some frustration with the process.
"And it works against us because, like you said, when we want to build a new school, we have to ask for it from the voters," Lammi said. "And if people are upset with higher taxation, one of the only times they get a choice in the matter is in the ballot box on a school referendum. There wasn't a referendum on the new buildings the county or city have built, but we have to go back to the voters despite the obvious needs."
Cary responded that the district works "within the financial constraints to try to provide the best education we can."
Following the financial presentation, the board voted unanimously to approve the levy and shifted into the regular school board meeting.