The Cloquet School Board voted Monday, Sept. 23, to set the district’s 2020 proposed levy to the maximum amount allowed by the state — a 0.17% increase from the previous levy.

The Minnesota Department of Education recommends school boards approve the proposed levy at the maximum amount since the levy can only be adjusted down.

The district’s business manager, Candace Nelis, said the proposed increase could adjust a bit, but not by much.

“(It’s) a lot smaller than it has been in the past few years,” Nelis said of the proposed levy increase. “I think the first year I was here (in 2015), we increased by 34% because of the new bonding and it’s gone up by about 4% the past couple years. It’s staying pretty even.”

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Last year, 17% of the district's revenue came from levy dollars.

In 2020, taxpayers will be on the fourth year of six in paying for a $3 million mistake a financial adviser made in 2015 when helping the district prepare for the referendum to build the new middle school. Nelis said she can't predict what will happen to tax rates after taxpayers are no longer paying for the mistake in 2023.

"I know people are probably thinking their taxes may go down because of the mistake that happened in 2015," Nelis said, "but I can't predict what's going to happen with home values and legislation and how equalization is done at the state level. I can't speculate that in two years."

During the open forum, resident James Mallery II asked the board not to approve the maximum levy. He pointed to a graph in a Sept. 19 Pine Journal article, "Carlton strangled by rival districts," that shows the 2019 school-only property tax estimates for five school districts in the county.

“What can we do about stopping these numbers from climbing and getting people to move into our district,” Mallery asked the board in reference to the fact that property taxes for homes in the Cloquet district ranked the highest among the five districts.

In response later in the meeting, Chair Ted Lammi said education in Cloquet is a bargain and he asks the auditors every year if that remains true.

“I ask them if education in Cloquet is a bargain and they say, ‘Yes it is.’ Compared with what we get toward what we spend,” Lammi said. “In education, we get excellent results.”

Board member Jim Crowley said that bargain extends to people not in school as well. The Cloquet Community Education and Recreation program opens up facilities for the community to use.

The board scheduled the Truth in Taxation hearing to discuss the levy and budget with the public for 6 p.m. Nov. 25 in the boardroom at Garfield School.