By Anna Jauhola
Tax payers in Lancaster’s school district will be asked to support a capital project levy this November when they cast their ballots in the general election.
The Lancaster Board of Education approved the question to be asked on the ballot at the Wednesday, Aug. 19 regular meeting. The board met in the computer lab at the school, socially distanced and wearing masks.
Should the voters cast their votes in favor of the levy, it will replace an expiring operating levy that has been in place for some time.
Superintendent Shannon Hunstad said Ehlers, a municipal public advisory company out of Roseville, Minn., gave the board three options for ballot questions. The first option would have asked the public to vote in favor or against renewing the operating referendum that is set to expire this year. The second option asks the voters to vote in favor or against replacing the operating referendum with a capital project levy.
The third question is really complicated, Hunstad said, and “I wouldn’t even entertain it.” It asks three separate questions – one whether the district should renew the expiring referendum; one asking whether the district should approve a capital project levy; and one asking whether to revoke the current referendum and approve a new one.
The capital levy project, as described by the question that will be posed to voters, will raise approximately $150,000 in taxes through a levy of 9.441 percent more than the net tax capacity of the district. Over the 10-year levy period, the district will raise about $1.5 million.
This money will be specifically for “costs related to the purchase, replacement, support and maintenance of technology and curricular materials, building maintenance, and the purchase and replacement of transportation vehicles and related equipment.”
Hunstad said the capital project levy will help lower property taxes for homeowners but increase agricultural land taxes. Currently, agricultural homestead and non-homestead and seasonal recreational residential landowners (cabin owners) do not pay any taxes toward the school district through the operating revenue levy. If voters approve the capital project levy, those property owners would begin paying minimal taxes per acre on ag land and a certain amount per each cabin.
For example, someone who owns agricultural homestead land with a value of $2,000 per acre, they would pay 95 cents per acre in taxes, payable in 2021.
Agricultural non-homestead property worth $2,000 per acre will bring in $1.89 per acre.
Cabin owners will also see a jump. A $100,000 seasonal, recreational home will be taxed $95.
Residential, commercial and industrial property owners will see a drop in taxes. A homeowner with a house and land valued at $100,000 was paying $353 in taxes under the operating revenue levy. That will drop to $68.
Commercial or industrial property owners’ taxes will drop just over half with the capital project levy. Under the operating revenue levy, an owner of commercial or industrial property worth $250,000 was paying $882 in taxes.
The capital project levy will drop those taxes to $402.
“We need to make sure we explain this,” said Board Member Justin Peterson. “That this operating levy is expiring and we’re starting a new one (capital project levy).”
The board said, and Hunstad agreed, it will be necessary to use multiple ways to communicate clearly to the public about this upcoming ballot question and its possible results. There will be public meetings held at the school, articles in the newspaper, a direct mailer to all school district households and use of the website and social media.
In other business, the board:
• Accepted a donation of $200 to purchase lanyards students and staff can use to keep track of their facemasks this school year. Also accepted an anonymous donation of $1,000 to be used as the district needs.
• Approved the resignation of teacher Samantha Alme.
• Approved hiring Hannah Rynning as an elementary teacher.
• Approved the date and time for the annual Truth in Taxation meeting, which will be at the Wednesday, Dec. 16 regular board meeting beginning at 7 p.m.
• Board member Jason Langerud complimented the school’s leadership on their tremendous work and effort in organizing this coming school year. He said it’s been challenging and Hunstad, his staff, teachers and support staff have really pulled together a great-looking year.
• Hunstad talked about how the school year is scheduled to look. Preschool classes, in order to socially distance, will be held at Sion Lutheran Church. The school will open with in-person classes otherwise, using its hybrid model and with some students having opted out of attending in person. He said schools in Kittson County are fortunate to open under hybrid plans because the county has only had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 and currently has zero active cases. Any rise in cases will require a re-evaluation of how school is held. He also mentioned the school has received $42,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act funding. The district has used some of that money to purchase technology such as doc cams, which can be used to show a document in a Zoom meeting over the internet for those who choose to attend remotely, or in the case the school is required to send students home. That camera can also show the teacher working on a SMART board or whiteboard.
By Anna Jauhola