Along with the city, the West Fargo Public School District’s preliminary budget has a mill levy increase that could raise property taxes about $20 for a $100,000 home.
The district’s total overall levy in 2020 would be 137.79 mills, an increase over last year's 133.31 mills. That increase would equate to an increase of $20.6 cents for a $100,000 home.
Business Manager Mark Lemer said the general direction of the total levy is increasing, due largely in part to individual levy changes such as the sinking and interest levy, or the fund used to pay off debt.
“It’s related to the 2018 bond,” Lemer said. “So we had informed people there would be a slight increase related to our bonded debt.”
The sinking and interest levy is increasing from 41.06 mills to 43.12 mills in 2020.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the $106.9 million referendum in 2018 to build a third middle school and high school to decrease overcrowding in the current schools. Construction is underway on the Horace Middle School, and construction on the high school will begin once the middle school is finished in 2020.
The School Board recently approved preliminary designs of the two-story high school and architects will now refine those designs to present more detailed cost estimates.
The levy is also increasing to keep up with a state-issued formula that matches taxable valuations with the district’s ability to levy up to 60 mills.
The 2019 general fund levy was 58.29 mills, but the state formula presumes a deduction of 60 mills. There will be an increase of 1.17 mills for the general fund, which is essentially required by the state.
“The only reason we are currently below the 60 mills is because in previous years, our taxable valuation grew too fast,” Lemer said. In years past, taxable valuations helped offset costs and grew by more than 12 percent. This year the taxable valuation based is only expected to grow by 7 to 8 percent.
While construction costs are kept separate and paid through the district’s building funds, staff salaries are the district’s largest expenditure from its operational fund. Staffing costs just more than 83 percent of the district’s overall expenses of $143.1 million.
The city’s preliminary budget numbers also show a mill increase of 4.35 mills, or about $20 per $100,000 home, but the City Commission has yet to approve its preliminary budget.
The School Board will meet on Aug. 5 to approve its preliminary budget. Unlike the city’s preliminary budget, the school district can adjust its levy up or down before the final budget is due on Oct. 10.
“As a preliminary levy, we don't know what the final numbers will be. We will incorporate the new taxable valuation so these numbers have the potential to change,” Lemer said.
A budget hearing will be held for the school district at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9. By that time, taxpayers will have received a letter from Cass County that will break down all potential changes from the city, county, school districts and park districts.
“At this point, it's at the super-high level. It doesn't mean as much as when people see that estimate and see the changes in valuations of their home and the different changes from each subdivision,” Lemer said.