Ashwaubenon schools levy up 4% as district pays off debt
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The tax levy approved Wednesday, Oct. 27, by the Ashwaubenon School Board for 2021-22 is an increase of 4% ($677,325) from last year.
The board adopted an overall tax levy of $17,320,720, compared to $16,643,395 from the previous year.
The district will pay off more of its referendum debt after voter approval in April 2020 for $10.05 million in facility improvements.
This year’s levy increases the amount designated for debt service by $725,000 to $2 million, along with a $20,000 increase in the community service fund levy to $695,000, but decreases the amount levied for the general fund by $67,675 to $14,625,720.
Business Director Keith Lucius said the district has 20 years to pay off the referendum, but will levy money to pay off the debt faster and save interest.
“We’re trying to be fiscally sound, like somebody does on their mortgage, where they pay more than their minimum mortgage payments,” he said. “That’s what we want to do, too, so we can pay that debt off sooner and have less interest for everyone.”
Lucius said money designated for debt service can only be used for debt payments and can’t be put back in the operational fund.
He said Ashwaubenon previously limited referendum bonds it issued to $10 million, the maximum amount issued in a calendar year for the bonds to remain bank-qualified.
He said those bonds are typically at a lower interest rate because of the larger amount of potential buyers with banks able to hold the bonds.
Lucius said the district contacted its attorneys about the referendum’s remaining $50,000, which can be issued as a one-year bank note.
“We have to borrow (the $50,000) and then pay it off…,” he said. “That money goes into the referendum to complete the projects, and then we levy for it to pay off the note.”
Lucius said the district worked out a one-year note for $50,000 with Bank First.
He said it has at an interest rate of 3.99% with no pre-payment penalty, no bank fees and a $500 legal fee.
“When we get our tax levy (money) in, if we want, we can pay it off right away in April, or we can wait,” he said. “We’ll do similar to what we did this year. We’ll look at where we are aid-positioned, and either pay it off before or after July 1, because that will determine which aid year it’s going to hit. We can play that game to maximize our aid or stabilize our aid.”
The board approved the remaining $50,000 borrowing authority as presented.
Lucius said the district’s equalized property value increased from the previous year by 6.76%, or more than $144 million, to $2,274,451,885.
When factoring the tax levy into the district’s overall property value, Lucius said the mill rate is $7.62 per $1,000 of equalized property value, a decrease of 19 cents from the previous year.
“The increase in the equalized property value offsets the increase in the levy, allowing the mill rate to decrease,” he said.
Lucius said a drop in the mill rate doesn’t necessarily mean a property owner’s tax bill will decrease.
“If the total dollars we’re raising increases, and everybody’s property value went up the same amount, your personal property tax bill will still go up, even though our mill rate went down, because your property’s worth more,” he said.
Lucius said the district uses equalized property values, because they allow for comparisons between districts.
He said Ashwaubenon does not receive a total assessed property value amount before the district sets the levy.
Lucius said the assessed mill rate will vary from the equalized mill rate based on the difference between equalized and assessed property values.
In addition to the general fund levy of $14,625,720, Lucius said another major revenue source is state equalization aid of nearly $8.7 million.
He said this is more than $275,000 higher than the previous year.
However, Lucius said the biennial state budget lawmakers approved this year didn’t increase the district’s revenue limit.
“When we start looking at next year’s budget, everybody hears me say all the time, it’s going to be a tough budget,” he said. “Next year is going to be probably the toughest budget I’ve had in my time here in Ashwaubenon, because the state gave us no increase in per-student funding…”
With about a third of Ashwaubenon’s more than 3,000 students not district residents, Lucius said the district is expecting more than $9.8 million in revenue coming from other districts for open enrollment students,
He said it’s an increase of nearly $300,000 from the previous school year.
“We’ve been pretty flat on our student head count for the last five or six years,” he said. “We’ve had some losses on resident children (we’ve filled in) through open enrollment. Remember, with open enrollment, every year we’ve got to generate 80 or more new open enrollment students to cover the ones that are graduating.”
Lucius said more than $3 million will be transferred from Ashwaubenon’s general fund in 2021-22 to help cover the district’s special education expenses, which are budgeted at more than $5 million.