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Tax discussion dominates Realtors forum

Taxes dominated discussion during a candidates forum on Tuesday.

The Southeastern Minnesota Association of Realtors sponsored the forum, which included candidates in the state legislative races to represent Austin and Mower County.

Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, both incumbent Democrats from Austin, and their Republican challengers, Austin School Board member Kathy Green and Preston attorney Jennifer Gumbel, took part in the forum.

The candidates were asked about their positions on state taxes.

Poppe said the new governor's attitude will affect legislators' discussions about ways the state can raise revenue. Green said she believes taxes stifle the private sector and thinks state spending should be curtailed. Gumbel said she favors using a sales tax rather than the income tax because the sales tax is more stable. Sparks said he's tired of groups being singled out and won't support a budget that puts a heavy burden on senior citizens.


In response to Austin Realtor John Morrison's comments about wasteful state spending, Green said legislators are taking liberties with the public's money when they spend it on things that aren't required by the state's constitution. She said legislators should refocus their spending priorities.

Gumbel thinks state programs should be re-examined to see if they are effective and revamped if they aren't doing their jobs. She said unfunded mandates are "putting us in a bigger crunch."

Sparks said he thinks the discussion about the effectiveness of state spending raises "good points" and said partnerships and regionalism led to some of the programs at Riverland Community College and the coalition that built the new Hormel Institute.

Poppe said she doesn't think it's an simply an issue of how much is spent, but what the money is spent on.

Another legislative candidate forum is scheduled for Saturday morning at the Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services building in Albert Lea.

School superintendent fields levy renewal questions

Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz also answered questions about the district's referendum efforts earlier in the meeting.

Krenz emphasized that because the district is only looking for a renewal of two existing levies, voters won't see a tax increase.


The levies, which expire in 2011 and 2012 respectively, contribute $1.5 million each year. State revenue has stayed frozen for the last three years.

"We don't know what's going to happen. It's only a guess," he said.

The district has higher utility costs, health care premium increases and higher employee compensation, he said. The district has balanced its budget with $1 million in cuts to administration and supplies. Krenz said the district has aimed to keep cuts away from classes and programs. Class sizes have increased, which means students on "the extreme edge of learning" haven't been addressed.

The district has saved about $500,000 by implementing an energy conservation program. It also managed to find $7.2 million in grants over the past five years. Krenz said the Hormel Foundation is a major contributor. The district is still looking for more grant sources, he said.

The district's growing enrollment will be met with more teachers, since higher enrollment brings with it more dollars.

Krenz said 81 percent of the district's budget comes from state aid. Beyond that, about 6.6 percent comes from federal aid and 7 percent comes from the local tax levy. The remaining 4.98 percent comes from a variety of sources, including grants. The district gets a lot of government aid because over half of its students meet guidelines for free or reduced lunch programs.

In response to a question about how much opposition the levy renewal has seen, Krenz said the effort saw "no formal opposition" and that there is a "misunderstanding" about the effort.

"Administrators can't give themselves a raise," he said, adding that salaries for the district's principals and teachers are frozen.


Austin School Board chairperson Dick Lees, who was in the audience, said Austin is below the average for referendums within the Big Nine Conference and below the state average on costs.

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