Increasing aid, growth help Rib Lake schools
School tax rate expected to drop below $8
For his last annual meeting as an administrator, Rick Cardey brought good news to Rib Lake taxpayers on Monday night.
Cardey presented a proposed school district budget with a local property tax general fund levy of $1,755,296 and a projected equalized value tax rate of $7.89 per $1,000 of value, translating to $789 in the school portion of the property tax bill on a $100,000 home. Cardey said this is the first year in as long as he could remember that the district was below $8 for a tax rate. Last year the district’s tax rate was $8.39 per $1,000 of value.
Cardey attributed the $0.50 drop in the tax rate as being a combination of increased state aid, increases in the valuation of the district and rising enrollment. While the final state equalization figures for the district won’t be finalized until later this month, the preliminary numbers show the school district value increased by $9 million, or about 3% over last year. While the state’s official count won’t be released until later, the district has more than 500 students enrolled, up from 490 last year.
“Unless the equalized aid drops, the tax rate will be lower than what was printed in the annual meeting booklets,” Cardey said. He cautioned that the legislature could change the amount of aid, but he did not foresee any changes being made until after the general election. Cardey said it was more likely to see an adjustment in the per-pupil aid the district receives in March and would be done if the state wanted to soften the impact of reduction in school funding in the next biennial budget. The state budget process begins in January.
Cardey said the state budget for this fiscal year was pretty close to what was projected. “The next budget biennium is not looking as good,” Cardey said, anticipating district won’t see the big increase in funding they saw during this budget cycle. In this school year’s budget the district is projected to receive an additional $199,000 in equalized aid from the state.
He noted schools account for about half of the state budget. “Next year could be a tough budget year,” he said.
That said, Cardey was overall optimistic about the district’s financial health and the work done to maintain the district’s school buildings and facilities. He noted the district debt will be below $2 million after this year’s payment and that the final payment on it will be in 2025. The only outstanding debt for the school district is the 2015 referendum. Cardey also noted the district has been setting aside money for future maintenance projects and has a total of $53,993 set aside and will be able to begin using that money this coming school year. Electors at Monday night’s meeting approved the district’s levy which includes the general as well as the debt service levy of $515,850 and the community service fund of $22,500.
As with all other government entities, Cardey said the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the Rib Lake School District. He said the district has had to purchase additional furniture, cleaning supplies, and has tripled the amount of nursing service in the district. Some of this was covered by a $75,000 grant through the CARES Act. He noted that, unlike nearby districts such as Prentice and Phillips, Rib Lake did not receive any grants from the state to help with COVID-19 expenses. As a result, the district has had to dip into the budget and reallocate funds to improve student safety.
“COVID is definitely having some costs,” he said.
Cardey also explained the reason for the district to hold the annual meeting earlier rather than waiting until the end of October for the numbers from the state to be set. The school board is prohibited from issuing debt, including short-term borrowing for cash flow, without the approval of electors at the annual meeting. With state funds not coming in until November, the district’s cash flow is at a low point in October. A routine action at the annual meeting allows the short term borrowing to take place as needed to maintain adequate cash flow in the district.