Howard-Suamico tax rate projected to remain at $9.19
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The tax rate for the Howard-Suamico School District is projected to remain at $9.19 for the fifth year in a row, the school board learned at its Monday, Sept. 9, meeting.
“The proposed budget includes another strategic debt reduction, which allows the board to set the (tax rate) at $9.19 (per $1,000 of equalized home value),” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations. “Though the local dollars levied will be different this fiscal year compared to last year, the levy rate remains the same.”
The property tax levy is projected to increase by $684,000 to $27.25 million for the 2019-20 school year.
This is coupled with a projected equalized value increase of 2.5 percent for the villages, for a new total of $2.96 billion worth of equalized value in Howard-Suamico.
Spets said the tax rate is projected to remain the same due to conservative fiscal management, strategic resource allocation/reduction and tactical liability restructuring.
“Responsiveness to the economic realities of district stakeholders have been realized through the board’s long-term debt reduction and refinancing strategies,” Spets said.
The new state budget also adjusted the low revenue ceiling from $9,400 per district student up to $9,700 per district student, the first increase in base revenue for the district since 2010-11.
“Because of the board’s steadfast commitment of a stable $9.19 tax levy rate to our owners, the impact of the low revenue adjustment, in effect, cancels out some of the revenue flexibility afforded by our referendum,” Spets said.
Though Spets called the work in Madison “the best state budget for Howard-Suamico in a decade,” he said more equity is still needed.
“We didn’t go far enough,” he said. “That $9,700 per student doesn’t address the district-to-district or community-to-community equity that we really need across the State of Wisconsin.”
Spets also pointed to the future of the district with Strategy 2035, a vision to create and sustain modern learning experiences, designed to be maintained by enhanced base revenue.
This will likely require a new referendum question for 2021.
“Our board and leadership will consider asking the community a referendum question that allows us to both meet the basic needs and upgrades across our collective facilities while creating best-in-class learning space options,” Spets said. “At the same time, we must offer an operational referendum question that allows us to continue to be competitive in our efforts to attract and retain talent while funding the staffing and operational costs associated with possible new learning spaces.”
On June 24, Spets indicated the magic number to make Strategy 2035 a reality is a tax rate of $9.49.
“We already know we provide programs above average,” he said. “We’re proud of our academic points of pride. But what could we be? How could we realize our vision if we had the $9.49?”
Board member Jason Potts drew on past experience and said $9.49 is the highest the community will consider for a new tax rate.
“I had the opportunity to be on the committee that looked at the referendum and helped to give some community guidance to what we put forward,” Potts said. “I remember there was a survey question that we asked the community as far as what the levy rate was they would accept, I believe $9.49 is what they said would be acceptable.”
The survey Potts referenced was conducted in September 2017 in regards to the 2018 referendum. Of those surveyed, 77.7 percent agreed or strongly agreed with supporting a 31-cent tax rate increase.
Board President Teresa Ford said prudent fiscal management is a must for a low-revenue district like Howard-Suamico.
“We are a low-spending, high-achieving district, and we want to continue to be that,” Ford said. “So managing the dollars to be able to do that is our biggest charge.”
But, the 2021 referendum question plan could change in the future, said Superintendent Damian LaCroix.
“We’re at the end of a really long bull run (nationally) here so what does that mean?” he said. “How much longer can we expect? And how do we position ourselves with what could come from that?”
Before the school board can work more on a potential referendum question, it needs to formally approve the proposed budget and $9.19 tax rate for the 2019-20 school year.
The annual meeting and budget hearing is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 30.
Following that, the board will vote to approve the 2019-20 budget and tax levy at its Oct. 21 meeting.
Things could also change before then.
“If you don’t remember, or aren’t aware, Oct. 15 is when the state basically locks or freezes a lot of our variables,” Spets said. “So anything until that time is basically a guess.”