Despite criticism from resident Bernice Ziegler, the North Platte school board approved an increase in the property tax request Monday.
Ziegler’s appeal was to no avail. Board member Ivan Mitchell voiced the most significant comment from the board, telling Finance Director Stuart Simpson he’s done a suburb job of handling finances and developing the budget.
But Ziegler said there is no reason for the district to keep about $200,000 in extra money, which will arrive because the taxable valuations of property are higher than estimated a month ago.
Ziegler urged the board to let the taxpayers keep a little money. She said at the Aug. 6 public hearing, everyone agreed the school budget was adequate. She said taking extra money from the taxpayers represents a “goal to get as much as possible from the taxpayer, or to get as close to the (legal limit) $1.05 levy as possible.”
Ziegler is a North Platte resident and taxpayer who attends meetings and urges the school board to ease the tax impact on families.
“It kinda looks like a gouge,” she said of the increase since Aug. 6. “The levy limit is to protect taxpayers, not to take advantage of them.”
Ziegler specifically asked the two school board members representing her ward – JoAnn Lundgreen and Mike Morrell – to vote against the budget increase.
“You have no problem giving a large salary to the superintendent, but you can’t give the taxpayers even a small break,” she said. “The Aug. 6 budget was presented as a workable budget, but apparently you were waiting to take advantage of property owners. I thought North Platte was a caring community.”
When she finished speaking, Morrell asked Simpson to respond.
Simpson said “All we are doing is trying to offset the loss of state aid and shore up reserves for the future.”
Simpson said the district will receive $900,000 less in state aid compared to last year, due to a downturn in the state’s economy and less tax revenues at the state level.
The North Platte school budget calls for the district to dip into cash reserves to cover most of that shortfall. Simpson said cash reserves are at 21% of the general fund. The reserve would pay expenses in the case of an extreme emergency.
The property tax request for general funds will be $24.66 million in the coming year, up from $24.21 million proposed at the public hearing on Aug. 6.
About half of that increase is the county treasurer’s $246,000 fee for collecting the taxes. The rest of the increase is because the valuations of property are higher than estimated, Simpson told the board.
Board member Skip Altig asked Simpson when the district’s two building bonds would be paid in full.
One bond is for North Platte high school and the other is for the Lake elementary. Simpson said the high school bond will be paid in December 2020 and the Lake in December 2022.
When it came time to vote on the property tax request and the higher budget, the board’s approval was unanimous.
The district’s total budget for 2018-19 is $58.02 million — up 1.78% from last year.
The district will call for 2% more in local property taxes than a year ago – an increase of about $100,000 over last year, and a total of about $28.67 million.
In other action, the board agreed to sell a 2006 14-passenger bus to St. Patrick’s Catholic school for $17,000. Simpson said the bus is still a viable van. It will be replaced with a new 10-passenger van. Simpson said the smaller van will be big enough to transport golf teams and other small activity groups, and it should get better gas mileage than the old one.