Friday, April 18, 2014

Ottawa schools bump mill levy amid funding loss

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 8/14/2013

Declining property values and higher operating costs have prompted the Ottawa school board to bump up the district’s mill levy property taxing rate by 1.28 mills for the 2013-2014 school year.

During a budget hearing Monday night, Jeanne Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, talked about the need for the slight mill increase from 59.062 in 2012-2013 to 60.345 in 2013-2014.

Declining property values and higher operating costs have prompted the Ottawa school board to bump up the district’s mill levy property taxing rate by 1.28 mills for the 2013-2014 school year.

During a budget hearing Monday night, Jeanne Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, talked about the need for the slight mill increase from 59.062 in 2012-2013 to 60.345 in 2013-2014.

Decreased property valuations — coupled with recent tax abatements for larger businesses as incentives to relocate to Ottawa or expand operations here — have resulted in a decline in the value of each mill. When the assessed valuation declines, it takes a higher mill levy to generate the same number of tax dollars. The assessed value of property within the school district’s boundaries dropped from $119.36 million in 2012-2013 to $117.85 million in 2013-2014, according to the district’s budget figures.

The school district is mindful of the tax dollars it generates through the mill levy, Stroh said, in describing the balancing act between keeping the mill levy at a manageable amount for taxpayers while generating enough funds to meet the school district’s needs.

“We have to be careful because we don’t want to stunt community growth [through too high of a mill levy], but we also need to fund our schools,” Stroh said.

The budget hearing was uneventful, with no district patrons asking questions when given the opportunity by David White, school board president, who opened the hearing to public comments after Stroh’s presentation.

Declining contributions from the state Legislature the past few years in base state aid per pupil also have put some districts in a financial pinch, Stroh said.

“We have gone from $4,440 [in base state aid per pupil] in 2008-09 to $3,838 this year,” Stroh said. “So, you can see we’ve taken a significant hit in base state aid per pupil.”

The district’s estimated cost of educating each student is $13,436 per pupil for the 2013-2014 school year — up from $11,514 last school year, according to the budget. The district’s total expenditures are estimated at $32.49 million for 2013-2014, up from $27.61 million in 2012-2013.

One primary reason for the higher expenditures is the district’s line item for capital improvements, which is projected at $2.575 million for 2013-2014, up from $256,605 last school year, according to budget figures.

The spike in capital improvement expenses — needed in large part to cover repairs to the roofs and epoxy floors at Lincoln and Garfield elementary schools — is deceiving at first glance, however, because the increase was offset by a $2.5 million settlement from contractor Manning Construction Co. and some of its subcontractors, district officials said.

The Ottawa school district filed a civil suit April 13, 2011, against Manning, seeking damages for what it claimed was faulty work — citing leaks in the roofs and cracking in the floors of both schools within a year of the projects’ completion. Manning was the general contractor in charge of the construction of Lincoln, 1102 N. Milner Road, and a major renovation project at Garfield, 1213 S. College St., which began in 2005.

The school board voted April 15 to approve a settlement negotiated between attorneys and representatives of Manning Construction and the school district’s negotiating team.

“The settlement more than offset the repair costs,” Stroh said.

The board is expected to approve the 2013-2014 budget resolution at its next meeting 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at the district’s central office, 1404 S. Ash St., Ottawa. 

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