Janesville71.1°

Janesville School District reduces tax levy

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 30, 2007
— A substantial tax increase was foretold about a year ago when Janesville taxpayers voted to borrow money to improve their high schools.

School officials told voters at that time they’d be paying about $103 more per year on the average house in order to pay for the expansions of Craig and Parker high schools.


The first installment on paying back that borrowing comes due this school year.


But changes in how the state funded schools this year were unexpected, driving up the tax levy even more.


So Janesville experienced an are-you-kiddin’-me moment last week: A 19 percent increase in the tax levy.


School board members said Tuesday night that they wanted a better headline today. They asked the administration for options to reduce taxes, and it got them:


-- Use $500,000 in interest earnings. The district already has sold about $33 million in bonds to finance the first stages of the high school projects, but much of that money sits in the bank until needed, and officials told the board that $500,000 of the interest earnings would be a prudent amount.


-- Take money from the fund balance, a budget reserve fund used for a variety of purposes. Guidelines suggest that a school district keep a fund balance of about 25 percent of its yearly operating expenses. The fund was at 27 percent June 30.


“It’s the taxpayers’ money, and I do think we should give some back,” board President Debra Kolste said of the fund balance.


The result is an increase in the tax levy of 14.2 percent and a tax rate hike of 8.24 percent. On the average Janesville home, that translates to $74 more in school taxes, said comptroller Lauri Clifton.


The board discussed at length how much they could afford to reduce the tax hike.


Board member Todd Bailey said he relies on the district’s financial professionals for answers, so he asked them what they thought was the most fiscally responsible amount.


District business director Doug Bunton said he could not make a recommendation because, ultimately, the decision is a political one.


Lori Stottler suggested the board try to not exceed the $103 increase promised before the referendum.


“Forty cents on every dollar they pay goes for education, so it’s hard to ask them for more,” Stottler said.


Tim Cullen also focused on taxpayers, saying that they will see only the bottom line of the tax bill.


“This is the most unfair tax of all,” Cullen said. “… If we can get this (percent increase) down to the single digits, I’d be a lot more comfortable voting for it.”


Cullen at first suggested using the $500,000 in interest earnings plus $1.9 million from the fund balance. That would have meant an increase of 5.1 percent on the average house.


But other board members thought that was dipping too far into the fund balance, so Cullen backed off to a level that the board adopted unanimously, $1.5 million total.


Bill Sodemann was happy with the compromise, to the point where he lightheartedly offered Cullen a membership in the Republican Party.


Cullen responded in the same spirit, joking that he knows the Republicans don’t have very many members, but no thanks.


Sodemann noted that much of the tax increase stems from the referendum vote: “They did say, ‘Yes, charge it to me.’”


BY THE NUMBERS

Significant numbers surrounding the Janesville School Board’s setting of the tax levy Monday:


2007-08 tax levy—$33.21 million


Tax levy increase—14.2 percent over previous year


School tax on the average fair-market value house last year: $854


School tax on the average fair-market value house this year: $929


Increase for the average house over last year: $74


Percent increase on the average house: 8.7 percent.


Tax rate last year—$7.71 per $1,000 of equalized value


Tax rate this year—$8.34


Tax rate increase—8.2 percent



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