Stakeholders in the Neligh-Oakdale district should expect a 13 percent increase in the district’s property tax asking this year, which comes on top of an 11 percent increase in land valuations.
Although preliminary numbers from Tuesday’s budget workshop indicate the levy will see a slight decrease - 98 cents last year to 97.5 cents this year - the overall tax asking is expected to increase by over a half million dollars. One cent of the levy represents over $57,000 in property taxes for 2015-16 thanks to valuation increases.
“I was hoping to not to have to increase the levy is what I had in my head,” said board member Kenny Reinke, who serves as chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee. “But that’s the way it has to play out. With the (money) we’re losing in state aid, it’s just a bad situation.”
Board members met at the workshop Tuesday night in preparation for setting the levy and tax asking at the September regular meeting. Due to work obligations, vice president Brad Higgins was the only member unable to attend, which president David Wright said was unfortunate considering his experience. With his six years, Higgins has more board experience than all of the other five members combined.
Interim Superintendent Bill Kuester began the budget talks by explaining that the district lost over $314,000 in state aid, which leaves Neligh-Oakdale with just $15,187 in aid. Another additional cost for the district this year is nearly $60,000 in insurance paid to support staff thanks to Obamacare.
Wright asked if that was a one-time cost to the district, but Kuester said Neligh-Oakdale will have to pay insurance for its support staff every year and to expect that number to increase as premiums rise over the years, just like it does with faculty benefits.
Kuester estimated Neligh-Oakdale’s overall expenditures will increase this year to $6,688,391. That’s a 5 percent increase from a year ago. It includes $185,000 for cash reserve and $64,000 to protect the budget authority, which allows the budget to increase annually at a level approved by the state.
The board is also increasing the amount of money going toward building improvements. Although the building fund levy is nearly identical to what it was last year (13.7 cents then and 13.6 proposed now), more taxes will be paid now since valuations increased. Last year, $707,071 was levied for the building fund while this year $776,823 is expected to be levied.
On the flip side, the board decreased its tax asking for the Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund (QCPUF). This is a 10-year bond that has seven remaining years and was originally used for a new HVAC system in the 1930s building. The board could have asked for up to 5.2 cents for QCPUF but instead discussed 3.5 cents (it was 5.1 last year).
This portion of the levy can not only be used for paying back the QCPUF bond but additional funds levied also can be used for other energy- and life-saving improvements, such as new windows, HVAC or kitchen improvements. Board members wanted to keep the QCPUF levy at a level allowing them only to pay back the bond and did not discuss using it for other impending projects.
Board members spent a considerable amount of time looking for ways “to soften” the levy. Reinke said he considered putting less money in the building fund while Wright said he was looking at ways to cut the general budget, which is primarily faculty, staff and administrator salaries and insurance benefits.
At the end of the meeting, board members agreed with the levy and tax asking presented by Kuester. Board member Ryan Koinzan said he hopes that the building fund can decrease in a couple of years to lower property taxes since he said that is the only place he sees where cuts can be made in the future.