The tax levy and mill rate are going down for property owners in the Tomah Area School District.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of a 2017-18 budget that cuts the levy by two percent and the mill rate by five percent during a special meeting Tuesday at Robert Kupper Learning Center.

It was the first time the levy was reduced since 2005-06. A combination of state aid, shedding debt service and a slight bump in enrollment led to the levy decrease.

“For this year, it’s very good news,” school district business manager Greg Gaarder said.

The basic operating budget or “Fund 10” is $400,000 higher than last year, but the budget sheds $635,000 worth of debt payments compared to last year. The district is now debt free.

“The only thing we need to levy for is Fund 10,” Gaarder said.

A 3.3 percent increase in property value allowed the mill rate to drop by more than the tax levy. The district added $52 million in equalized value, which means the owner of a $100,000 property that didn’t change assessment will see a school tax decrease of $42.12. For taxpayers in the Monroe County portion of the school district, it comes close to offsetting the $53 increase as a result of the county’s proposed 13.7 percent levy hike.

The district also benefited from increased enrollment. A three-year rolling average boosted the district’s enrollment by 17 students, which increased the district’s state aid payment. The state budget also increased state aid by $200 per student.

Gaarder, however, said he’s concerned about a potential decrease in federal funding. Roughly $1 million of the district’s $34 million comes from federal sources. Most of the money funds Title 1 reading teachers, and the district gets $115,000 in impact aid.

“If I have a concern ... it’s what’s going to happen to our federal dollars,” he said.

Gaarder said the tax levy is expected to decrease again next year followed by increases after that. He plans to present a five-year budget projection at the Dec. 18 board meeting.

The board also ratified salary increases for teachers, administrators and support staff that were outlined during the Oct. 16 meeting. Pay packages for teachers and support staff will rise 2.81 percent, which includes both base salary and step increases. Administrators will receive a 1.81 percent increase.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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