North Branch Schools’ levy going down

North Branch Special Education teacher Lisa Nowak is presented her certificate for being recognized as a Education Minnesota Central Outstanding Leader by Norse Area Learning Center Principal David Treichel during the Sept. 10 school board meeting.

Amid much financial anxiety surrounding the COVID-related recession, the North Branch Area School Board was able to deliver a little bit of good news courtesy of Finance Director Todd Tetzlaff.

“The draft amount of the levy for this year is currently less than the levied amount for last year,” Tetzlaff simply told the board.

Each September, city, county and school government bodies must approve a preliminary levy, which is the amount of money that government will place on local property owners’ property taxes. While the final levy amount doesn’t get approved until December, that amount can’t exceed the preliminary levy.

According to Tetzlaff, the district’s levy will be capped at $9.377 million, a decrease of .3% from last year’s $9.408 million. Tetzlaff said there are two main reasons for this decrease.

First, the district was able to refinance some of their debt a couple years ago, and that savings takes time before it shows up on the books. The bigger reason, however, is in general because district taxpayers have been so good in paying their taxes.

Tetzlaff explained that it is the practice of all school districts to levy 5% over their debt service amount. This is done in order to build up a reserve in the event a larger than normal number of taxpayers become delinquent in paying their taxes. If that happens, districts are able to tap into that reserve to avoid having to make instant budget cuts in order to pay off their debt.

The state, however, employs a formula that mandates if this reserve reaches a certain level, money must be “given back to the taxpayers” in the form of a smaller levy. Tetzlaff said this is what has happened in North Branch.

“Over time, what has happened is we have had a good experience in collecting taxes,” Tetzlaff said. “There is a formula that triggers the need to make this correction. That’s all done at the department of ed. level and the legislative level drives those decisions.”

Tetzlaff was asked how the still unknown COVID-related expenditures might impact the numbers, or if he has heard if there may be some sort of “COVID levy” in the future?

“What is interesting is that the finance directors around the state don’t engage in too much speculation,” Tetzlaff said. “They are kind of factual people.”

He went on to say that he is keeping close track of all COVID-related expenses in the event something does come along and what kind of an impact they will have on the current and future budgets.

Nowak recognized

Also at the Sept. 10 board meeting, Special Education teacher at the LifeWork Center Lisa Nowak was recognized for receiving the Education Minnesota Central Outstanding Leader Award.

“This is given to an exemplary teacher that inspires others and is a positive role model and seeks to improve themselves,” said David Treichel, Principal of the Norse Area Learning Center.

Treichel gave the example of why Nowak is so deserving of the award. “There have been many a nights when I do an ‘all-call’ into the building before I set the alarm, and I say ‘is anyone here?’ and I hear Lisa say ‘I’m still here, don’t set the alarm!’”

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