by Mike Knaak
Sartell-St. Stephen school district voters will be asked to approve an operating levy in a special election on Nov. 5.
If approved the levy will raise $1.7 million a year for 10 years.
For this special election, the levy will be the only question on the ballot. Instead of polling places typically used for general elections, three polling places for the special election have been set up.
The polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.:
Celebration Lutheran Church
1500 Pinecone Road N.
Sartell City Hall
125 Pinecone Road N.
St. Stephen City Hall
2 Sixth Ave. SE.
Early voting and absentee ballots are available from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. through Monday, Nov. 4, at the District Service Center, 212 Third Ave. N.
The ballot wording asks voters to revoke the district’s existing levy and replace it with a new authorization.
Voting Yes approves the levy and a property tax increase.
A year ago, district voters turned down a similar measure.
Because of a change in state funding approved by the Legislature, the property-tax impact of this levy will be less than it was a year ago.
This chart shows the approximate tax increase. Taxpayers can figure their own tax impact with an online calculator at Sartell.k12.mn.us/2019levy.
Market value increase
School leaders point out that operating levies tax agricultural property differently than bonding. Farmers are taxed on their residence and one acre of land, not their entire acreage. The Legislature provided additional property-tax relief for farmers with a tax credit on bonding, including the money approved for the new high school. Farmers received a 40 percent tax credit for 2019 and that increases by 10 percent a year through 2023.
District leaders say the money raised by the operating levy is needed to meet the needs of a growing district.
They explain the operational levy is part of a multi-year strategic plan that includes funding the new high school, remodeling the old high school to serve as a middle school, converting the current middle school for grades three through five and reconfiguring the grades in the two elementary buildings starting next fall.
The increased funding will support operating a total of six buildings (including the District Service Center) when the old high school-to-middle school remodeling is complete next year. Operations include custodians, food service, heating/cooling and maintenance. The new high school is just short of 300,000 square feet. It costs about $3.50-$4 per square foot to operate a building. The added cost because of an additional building is between $1 million and $1.2 million annually.
The school district prepared a special website with information about the levy at https://www.sartell.k12.mn.us/2019levy/.