Belle Fouche School Board Votes to Opt Out of Property Tax Freeze

BELLE FOURCHE — The Belle Fourche School Board voted 5-2 Monday to opt out of South Dakota’s property tax freeze for three years to raise $550,000 to help offset the annual cut in state aid.

The additional property tax in the school district would add about $110 to the tax bill on a $100,000 owner-occupied home. Ag land would add about $2.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation; commercial buildings would add about $8.49 per $1,000 of valuation.

Superintendent Steve Willard said even with the additional revenue, the district plans to cut about $250,000 per year on the assumption that state aid cuts by the South Dakota Legislature will not be replaced.

“What we’re talking about is the 2012-2013 budget,” he said.

The district already cut about $275,000 in teaching and support costs from the 2011-2012 budget due to an estimated loss of nearly $840,000 in state and federal aid.

District residents have until 20 days after the posting of a legal notice, expected to take place July 6, to gather signatures for a referendum to block the increase.

The district is covering state and federal aid cuts by using $130,000 in one-time state money, shifting $200,000 from the capital outlay fund, which covers building maintenance and updates, and cash from the general fund balance.

That can’t continue for the following year, said board member Mike Day.

Without the opt out, the district will have to cut teachers at a minimum of six to eight positions per year and entire school programs such as vocational education.

“We’re not doing this to add things,” Willard said. “This is to hang on to what we have.”

He said he hopes next year’s legislature will consider a penny sales tax for education as the fairest solution.

If the state restores its cuts to education in coming years the district would be able to discontinue the opt out.

The district has no choice but to increase local taxes or to chop teachers to replace about $555,000 the state legislature cut this year. Other state and federal losses are another $140,000 not covered even if the legislature returned full state aid to schools.

The two board members voting against the opt out were Sue Whitman and outgoing board member Tim Kudlock.

Whitman noted that drought in Texas and the Southwest were bringing a major livestock sell-off that result in a cut in cattle prices for ranchers in the school district for operations already stressed by increasing costs.

Kudlock said he is concerned that if most of the state’s school districts approve higher property taxes, the legislature and Gov. Dennis Daugaard could make even greater cuts in state aid.


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