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Grand Forks school district's tax portion set for 5.6 percent bump, per board vote

Grand Forks residents are likely to see a higher tax bill this December--at least, the portion of it that comes from Grand Forks Public Schools. The district's School Board voted 8-0 Tuesday evening with member Doug Carpenter absent to approve mi...

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Grand Forks residents are likely to see a higher tax bill this December-at least, the portion of it that comes from Grand Forks Public Schools.

The district's School Board voted 8-0 Tuesday evening with member Doug Carpenter absent to approve mill rates that will show up on tax bills this December.

Because the board voted to keep the mill rates the same, the district will collect the same percentage of many property values as they did last year. And since property values have gone up since 2015, that means the average Grand Forks taxpayer will see a 5.59 percent increase on their school-levied property taxes.

For someone who owns a $100,000 home, that's an increase from $438.12 to $462.65-a total of $24.53, according to district calculations. This is the third consecutive year the mill rate has been held steady, district Business Manager Ed Gerhardt said.

"We are trying to provide the best quality education we can while still respecting the interests of the taxpayer," School Board Vice President Eric Burin said following the meeting. "Based on what little feedback we've gotten, I think the general public thinks we're doing a pretty good job in that respect."

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The news comes in the midst of multiple potential changes to city tax rates. Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown's proposed budget isn't set for release until Aug. 22, but holding steady on mill rates would result in a similar increase on the city portion of residents' property taxes.

And those aren't the only two taxes in flux this year. Voters are likely to decide at the Nov. 8 election whether to increase the city sales tax from 1.75 percent to 2.5 percent, a move that could generate $7.75 million each year until 2067 for infrastructure projects. Those projects could include a new water treatment plant, road construction and maintenance, and other large infrastructure items such as an Interstate-29 interchange.

Increasing revenue

The board also voted 8-0 to approve preliminary budgets for school district funds that get portions of their revenue from taxpayers, all of which total $102.2 million for this coming fiscal year and are drawn from a variety of sources.

District breakdowns of those budgets showed some indications of how the increased mill revenue might be spent. Gerhardt pointed out rising costs for salaries and fringe benefits in the district, both of which are forecast to increase by 5.5 percent.

Those increases, Gerhardt said, stem from negotiations finalized last year with teachers, administrators and support staff.

"There are some inflation, some increases due to increased enrollments ... but by far, the salaries and benefits are the main driver," he said of the need for the increased tax revenue.

School Board member Matt Spivey also pointed out that, although state funding is still solid during this coming fiscal year, the new revenue will help safeguard against the possibility they could falter amid state-level budget cuts and low oil prices.

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He also noted his frustration that holding mills steady is read as a tax increase and argued it's not quite so simple.

"I think the confusion is that when someone here says someone is going to increase their taxes. ... It's because of us implementing new taxes. It's a misconception. Someone's house has been assessed for more (value), and so overall taxable value goes up," he said, describing a system that taxes at a flat rate, despite its attachment to rising values. "It's two ways of looking at it. If their taxes go up, it's a tax increase, but they've got to look at the entity and why it went up ..."

The preliminary budgets are set for final approval at the Sept. 12 meeting of the School Board. Though a School Board member could raise the property tax issue for amendment, it is not expected to be listed on the agenda again.

"At this juncture, people have not really signaled their disapproval. There were no comments during (Tuesday's) public hearing; I have received no emails to that effect," Burin said. "I hope that reflects a general satisfaction with how we're running the Grand Forks Public Schools."

Related Topics: SCHOOL BOARD
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