Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Colette Stadin
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

District faces historic school vote

 

Tim Franklin

This recent aerial photo shows the current location of Moose Lake Community Schools. Should the bond issue pass, the new school will be built on land already owned by the district along County Road 10.

With four failed referendums in the last decade, the most recent in the spring of 2013, Moose Lake School District voters being asked to foot the bill for a new school building is a familiar question on the ballot. This November 4, district voters will once again be faced with this decision.

However, in a historic move, the state of Minnesota has put into law a Triple Levy equalization bill that will effectively cut the cost of the building project by about 60 percent - providing $20.3 million of the $34.7 million project to build a new preK-12 school facility and bus garage on land already owned by the district.

How did Moose Lake Community Schools get what has been referred to as a "gift" from the state?

After the school was damaged by the June 2012 flood that devastated much of the region, the school district lobbied the Legislature for two years, "pleading our case that the taxation of the Moose Lake citizens was unfair and that the added burden of going through a flood created a situation where it was unlikely that we would be able to pass a bond for a new school," said Moose Lake Community Schools Superintendent Robert Indihar.

A Triple Levy equalization bill eventually passed and was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. (MN Statutes 123B.535, visit https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=123B.535&format=pdf)

State Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-District 11, describes the Triple Levy equalization bill as "a proposed solution for schools in a situation like Moose Lake, where the school is in a low property-wealth district, has aging facilities that are struggling to keep up with the demands of teaching today's kids, and a natural disaster strikes, such as the 2012 NE Minnesota flood."

According to Sen. Lourey, traditional disaster aid will not help build a new structure and "trying to cobble the old one back together often doesn't make much sense."

Moose Lake's high school was built in 1935 with the elementary added in 1988.

"We in the legislature recognized the need for a statewide solution for instances when these factors collide, making proper facilities out of reach for a community," said Sen. Lourey.

Though the bill has become law, there have been questions raised as to the state's obligation to fullfill its promise of funding to Moose Lake School District.

"I have heard the allegations that there is a risk the state will not fulfill this commitment," said Sen. Lourey. "I have reviewed the law, spoken with Senate Counsel and also with Minnesota Management and Budget, the agency responsible for carrying out this law.

"If Moose Lake passes this referendum and fulfills the rest of the local obligations by entering into the contracts with the state and with a builder, the full faith and credit of the State of Minnesota will back this obligation. That is something we've never defaulted on," said Sen. Lourey.

Although 60 percent of the cost would be covered by the state, questions have been raised as to why the question on the ballot does not reflect this contribution.

According to Supt. Indihar, "By law we need to put the total price of the bond (on the ballot question), which is 34.7 million dollars. It will not include the state's contribution."

"Residents can rest assured: Minnesota will abide by the law and fulfill this obligation," said Sen. Lourey.

Should the referendum pass, taxpayers can expect to see an increase in their property taxes beginning with taxes payable in 2015.

According to Greg Crow of Ehlers and Associates, Inc., the school's financial adviser, the state funding begins with taxes payable in 2016.

"The debt is structured so that the debt service payment for taxes payable in 2015 is the same as the debt service payment for taxes payable in 2016 WITH the state contribution," said Crowe.

In other words, though the state portion will not kick in until taxes payable in 2016, the "payments" taxpayers will make to pay for the school are laid out in such a way that taxes payable in 2015 will see the same increase as if the state had kicked in that year. "The first payment is much lower, so that the tax impact is the same as the future payments with state aid included," said Crowe.

District property owners can calculate their tax impact at a property tax information site at http://www.ehlers-inc.com/custom/taxinformation/MooseLake/. The site suggests having your Notice of Valuation and Classification, which was mailed by the county in which the property is located in March 2014, on hand to calculate tax impact.

For example, for a residential homestead property valued at $100,000, taxes would increase by $191 per year if the proposal passes. For a home valued at $150,000, taxes would go up $337 annually. For a commercial property valued at $100,000, taxes would go up $400 per year. For seasonal recreational property valued at $100,000, taxpayers would see an increase of $267 per year.

Why build new?

The state's contribution of the $34.7 million project is $20.3 million, leaving taxpayers with the remainder of the bill, or $14.4 millon. "We had estimated that the upgrade of our building would be around $14.5 million. The new building with the state's contribution would be at a similar price to our citizens," said Supt. Indihar.

"We are to the point where the big infrastructure issues need to be taken care of. The roofs, tuck pointing, plumbing, electrical, and the HVAC system need upgrades. This is millions of dollars that we would need to put into our current building if we were to stay," said Supt. Indihar.

Supt. Indihar sites increased building efficiency, improved safety and security, better handicapped accessibility, the removal of the threat of another flood and cost savings as reasons to build new. "We are purposefully building a one-story building to avoid handicapped accessibility issues like we currently have in our building," said Supt. Indihar.

Though the school was flooded in 2012, the school buildings are located in an area the most recent FEMA maps refer to as "Zone C," or areas of minimal flooding, said Moose Lake City Administrator Pat Oman.

According to Supt. Indihar, "The Minnesota Department of Education stated they would not allow us to renovate on our current site knowing that we had 165 acres of land that we owned on high ground. They felt the point of the legislation was Natural Disaster relief and that it would make more sense to build on our property that was off the flood prone zone."

The proposed new school plans include a preK-12 facility and bus garage located on the school's County Road 10 property as well as costs for demolishing the old building if the school district is unable to sell it, furnishings for the new building and land upgrades, such as parking lots and sidewalks.

The proposed new school has also raised concerns regarding continuing the sports cooperative between Moose Lake and Willow River schools.

Staff

Some local farmers take to the streets of Moose Lake last week showing they will vote "NO" in the school's bond referendum for a new building.

According to Moose Lake School Board Chairwoman Kris Lyons, the board has not discussed dissolving the cooperative, "The sports liaison between Moose Lake and Willow River met last June to review the spring sports and any other concerns as has been done in the past. At that meeting, we agreed we would meet after the fall sports this season. This will happen in December. There has been no discussion on our part about this topic with our board."

The Moose Lake Community Schools bond issue will be presented to voters on General Election Day, Tuesday, November 4. Any eligible voter residing in the school district may vote at the polling place designated for the precinct in which they reside.

"It is up to Moose Lake School District voters to decide whether the proposed new facility is the right one for them, but I am very proud that I was able to help the legislature be a meaningful fiscal partner, putting the cost of the proposal within reach of our community," concluded Sen. Lourey.

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

noxidrw writes:

This seems to be our best chance at addressing our school infrastructure issues, I voted no before, but how can I say no to this, if we fail this go around we will pay about the same anyway later, might as well take advantage of the offerings of the state and do it. Vote yes, it's OK.

 
 
 

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