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Rochester School District levy nearly flat

You could have heard a pin drop.

For the third straight year, the Rochester School Board is poised to pass a levy that will essentially hold school property taxes flat, following a truth-in-taxation hearing that could have been titled the "Sounds of Silence."

When Board Chairman Gary Smith invited community members on Tuesday evening to address the board about any tax concerns they might have, he addressed a nearly empty board room. He had no takers.

The hearing was a preliminary step school boards must take before certifying their levies. The board is expected to certify a 0.28 percent property tax levy increase at a 5:30 p.m. meeting on Dec. 10. The less-than-1-percent increase amounts to a $102,648 increase over last year's levy and will bring the total levy up to $37,148,137.

That comes on top of a decrease in last year's levy of 1.41 percent and no levy hike in 2012.


The levy passed by the board next week is payable in 2014 and will be used for the 2014-15 school year. The local levy makes up about 17 percent of the district's $222 million operating budget that also includes state and federal aid and other sources.

Property tax

Even though the total levy will go upward marginally, most Rochester homeowners will see a downward drift in the school portion of their local property taxes, provided that their assessed property valued hasn't increased. That's because Rochester's tax base has grown, thus spreading the burden over more properties, said Larry Smith, the district's executive director of business and operations. Plus, agriculture homestead properties saw a slight tax increase, taking up the slack of whatever overall increase there was.

What it all boils down to is good news for homeowners.

For a person with a home valued at $150,000, for instance, the property tax bill will fall $17 from $457 to $440. For a home valued at $200,000, the drop will be $22. Commercial and industrial properties will also see across-the-board drops. Agricultural homestead properties are the only category of properties to see a slight increase in school taxes, with properties valued at $1.8 million paying $32 more.

Future funding

The school district already had telegraphed that next year's levy would be super low when it set a preliminary levy of 0.36 percent early this year. That figure essentially set a ceiling for how high the levy could go.

State funding, the biggest part of the district's funding pie, hasn't kept up with inflation, district officials said. Although per-pupil funding has risen 15.2 percent over the last decade, to $5,302 in 2013-14 from $4,601 in 2004-2005, the consumer price index, an inflation measuring stick, has risen nearly 25 percent over the same time.


"While the dollars are more, they are buying less with those dollars," district controller John Carlson said.

Smith predicted that era of flat levies wouldn't last forever.

"We're not going to be able to do this long-term," Smith said. "It's really at the sacrifice of maintaining some of our facilities."

School taxes

Homestead market value Payable 2013 Payable 2014 Difference

$100,000 $278 $266 -$12

$150,000 $457 $440 -$17

$200,000 $636 $614 -$22


$250,000 $815 $789 -$26

$500,000 $1,694 $1,643 -$51

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