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Grand Forks Schools reject three-mill tax increase for emergency fund

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Grand Forks Public School leaders on Monday voted against a proposed mill levy increase that would have allowed the district to create a fund for emergency spending.

School Board members unanimously voted to pass the property tax levy rate of 98 mills, which could generate about $23.3 million. That's slightly up from the 97.36 mills budgeted for the 2017-18 year.

What was not included in the approved levies was three mills that would have been dedicated to emergency spending. District leaders had proposed increasing the mill levy to help cover emergency costs, as revenue from the state Legislature has not increased over the past several years. The district is set to have a deficit of $2.38 million, according to preliminary figures.

There are enough reserve funds to cover that deficit, though the district needs to find a way to solve its deficit budget problems in upcoming years so it doesn't completely drain those funds, board members said.

The mill increase would have generated an additional $700,000. Though the School Board initially gave its consent to hold a public hearing on the increase, board members later expressed hesitation. Some wanted to see if the Legislature would move to increase funding for K-12 education, while others wanted to a clearer definition on what the money generated from the emergency fund would be spent on.

One resident asked the district to keep the three-mill increase during the September public hearing. C.T. Marhula questioned whether the School Board can rely on legislators to give more funding to K-12 education after the state made cuts amid low oil and ag commodity prices.

A home with a market value of $300,000 would have seen an increase on an annual tax bill of $49.14, or almost 3.75 percent from the 2017-18 school year, if the mill increase had been approved, according to calculations from the district. That increase would have appeared on 2019 tax statements.

It's possible the School Board could revisit the tax increase in the future, district leaders said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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