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Tax rate dips, budget up at LUHS

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MINOCQUA – Homeowners and most other real estate taxpayers in the Lakeland Union High School District will see a slight dip in that school district’s property tax rate after Monday’s annual school meeting.

The electors voted unanimously to approve a district-wide levy just shy of $12 million, showing an increase of 1.12% over the prior year. The tax rate will be $1.84 per $1,000 of equalized valuation. That’s three cents lower than the prior year, according to finance director Greg Kopp.

He noted revenues have been “relatively flat the last seven or eight years.” The tax rate, too, has been stable over the last six years.

Some properties are tax exempt, such as churches. But for the vast majority, it means owners will be paying $184 on a property valued at $100,000, or $368 on a $200,000 home. Of course, if your home went up substantially in value, you’ll pay more taxes than last year.

The LUHS levy is one of several that property owners pay in the district: others are for the elementary school district, town, county, Nicolet College and state.

Part of the ability of a taxing body to keep the rate down is an increase in the district’s overall equalized value. Kopp built in a 2.5% increase to arrive at the levy number. The district’s valuation is estimated at $6.5 billion. The state is expected to release its equalization calculations for taxing districts soon.

Another factor in revenues has been an increase in student enrollment: now at 749 at LUHS and another 36 at the STAR charter school. The state allows districts to raise more money through taxes when enrollments increase.

2021-22 budget approved

Meanwhile, the school board at its earlier meeting that night approved the 2021-22 school budget of $21,585,231, a marked increase over the 2020-21 budget of $19,859,132. That includes about $2.6 million in what’s called interfund transfers to special education and another account. The approved budget shows a surplus of $190,653.

Driving the budget increase, in part, was the addition of seven new teachers this year, who were needed to help struggling students catch up on their education goals.

During the budget hearing, there were a handful of questions from electors, who were mostly school board members and school staff. Board member Pam Carroll asked about the deteriorating stadium bleachers, which have been certified to be safe but only until 2024.

In response, newly installed district administrator Claire Martin said the board should start planning “now” to replace them.

Kopp suggested putting money aside for that major project and to not tap the district’s “fund balance,” which is used to bridge expenses when revenues slack off. That account should grow to $9.47 million by end of the school year, he said. Another finance option would be to ask electors’ approval through a referendum or possibly from large donations.

Kopp noted fund balance could pay for “low-hanging fruit” such as the needed tennis court repairs, raised by tennis coach Ted Dasler. Large cracks in the surface of the courts and sagging net posts could result in loss of home matches next year, the head coach said. It could cost in excess of $50,000 to make needed repairs.

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