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Verndale School weighs levy changes

By tweaking the way it levies money from local taxpayers, the Verndale school district stands to get tens of thousands of dollars more in state aid -- however, officials are concerned that the public might perceive the changes as an unnecessary increase in the wake of the recently-passed building bond referendum.

Superintendent Paul Brownlow brought up the idea of altering the levy at the Verndale School Board's Sept. 4 meeting, saying the school would look into shifting part of the taxpayer burden to a new "$300 levy" that the state of Minnesota "equalizes", or provides matching funds for.

If they decided to go ahead with the plan, the district would transfer the taxes out of other levies that aren't equalized, Brownlow said later. That means ideally, the total non-voter-approved levy each family pays either wouldn't be changed or it would actually decrease slightly, he said.

The "$300 levy" name comes from the ability for schools that have operating levies to take up to $300 per pupil unit at their school from the operating levy charge to taxpayers and apply the total of all the pupil units to a new levy that gets matching funds- in Verndale's case, 73 percent matching funds, Brownlow said.

The chance to switch the taxes from non-matched to matched levies is the result of legislation out of St. Paul that went into effect after Verndale passed its bond referendum, Brownlow said.

"(The new law) didn't come at a very good time for us because we just passed the building bond-- we told our taxpayers, 'We can support the new building with our current general fund, we do not need additional dollars to cover that,' Brownlow said.

During the board meeting, member Bill Blaha appeared skeptical of the change, saying it might be unwise for Brownlow to spend effort on researching the levy switch when the school board could risk a PR nightmare if people see the change as a tax increase.

"It's a really bad hot potato, in my opinion," he said.

Brownlow told the PJ later that to look into the levy change was worth the risk.

"The simplest thing to do probably is to do nothing - to not even go ahead with the $300 dollar levy," he said. "But I really think I'd like to put some time into it to show our taxpayers that good faith on our end..."