School board to set its portion of tax bills

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Sunday, October 23, 2011
— The Janesville School Board on Tuesday is scheduled to wrap up what has to be one of its most difficult budget discussions ever.

The board is scheduled to set the tax levy and give final approval to this year’s budget.

State law limits how much the board can raise taxes. Superintendent Karen Schulte is recommending that the board tax to the limit. She issued a memo Friday that tries to persuade the nine board members to see it her way.

The maximum tax would be $37.91 million, a 5.6 percent increase from last year.

Exactly how much a maximum tax increase would affect an individual’s property tax won’t be known immediately. Officials estimate that taxing to the max would increase the tax on the average-priced house by $52 a year.

They had previously estimated a $90-per-year increase, but a last-minute refinancing of the district’s debt reduced that amount.

So, “the burden to taxpayers is less than anticipated,” Schulte wrote.

The board needs money from somewhere to address a deficit in the operating budget, now put at $5.56 million. Taxing to the max would reduce the deficit by about $3 million.

Schulte recommends the board use fund balance to fill the remaining deficit of $2.56 million.

Board members appear split on the issue. Some prefer taxing less and using more fund balance.

Board members know that the more fund balance they use now makes balancing next year’s budget more difficult. That’s because fund balance, once used, is gone, while the expenses continue in the following year.

Schulte noted in her memo the wide variety of students and needs the district must serve.

“Because our needs are great and we serve all students, we also must realize that it costs money to run a public school, and the taxpayer, as it currently stands, has an obligation to pay taxes to support the local public education entity in its community,” Schulte wrote.

Schulte also suggests that the board consider—apparently for future years—a tax credit for senior citizens on fixed incomes or a “wage” credited toward property taxes for senior citizens who volunteer in schools.

Schulte noted that the board has levied less than the maximum tax in six of the past eight years.

“While this may have helped keep property taxes down, the School District of Janesville received less state aid. As a result, an estimated $6 million of aid was not levied over the last two years,” Schulte wrote.

Schulte noted that taxing to the max is one of the tools the state gives local districts to balance their budgets and meet educational needs. In addition, the state will allow an extra $1 million in aid “if and only if the district uses its taxing authority to raise taxes to the maximum allowable under the law by fiscal year 2012-13.

“The state clearly wants school districts to raise taxes first,” Schulte wrote.

Schulte’s memo notes that the board already has cut more than $9 million in spending and raised another $1 million in fees this year.

Last updated: 6:40 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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