Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) could soon levy $1 million annually from local property taxpayers, although this time around, what is usually referred to as "referendum revenue" won't be subject to a referendum vote by the public.
The board, along with districts across the state, will be allowed to raise property taxes without a public vote, after state legislation changed the way that districts can impose new local taxes. The legislation allows the board to tax up to $300 per pupil unit from local property taxpayers by a simple School Board vote, rather than a ballot question to be decided by the voters who would pay for it.
The measure would mean an additional $1 million annually for WAPS, although the new law won't allow districts to collect the added revenue until any voter-approved levy were to expire or fall below the $300 per pupil mark. For WAPS, it essentially shifts $1 million of the levy maximum amount from voter-approved to board-approved. It means that when districts attempt to pass new referenda, they will be able to ask for a reduced figure, which, as WAPS Finance Officer Dan Pyan said, will be an easier sell for voters. And, if WAPS voters don't approve a future property tax levy request on the ballot, the district will still be able to levy $1 million from local property taxpayers.
Each time a School Board votes to impose the new tax, it will be able to collect it for up to five years, explained Minnesota Department of Education School Finance Specialist Bob Porter. If WAPS School Board members implement the tax, it will last until fiscal year 2019, he said, "and then five years from now, in the late summer or fall of 2018, they could then renew that $300 per pupil unit for five additional years, and continue doing that renewal once every five years, forever."
For WAPS, the current voter-approved $1,550 per pupil unit referendum won't expire until 2016, so the new board-approved levy would not be applied until that year. Pyan has advised the board to seek another voter-approved levy referendum in 2015.
WAPS School Board members are expected to be briefed on the new legislation during the regular board meeting on Thursday, August 1, at 6 p.m. at Winona City Hall.