Residents of the School District of Mauston will see a drop in the school portion of their property tax bills this year.
The district Board of Education adopted a 2014-15 preliminary budget last month that calls for a 7.56 percent decrease in the tax levy.
“We got a lot more in general aid and that reduces what you have to tax the taxpayers,” district Business Manager Julie Lankey-Smallwood said.
The preliminary budget calls for overall spending of $22,880,484 — a drop of nearly $625,000, or 2.7 percent, from the unaudited 2013-14 spending total.
As it now stands, the Mauston schools spending plan calls for a property tax levy of $7,732,557 — $632,000 less than last year. The proposed property tax rate of $12.41 per $1,000 of equalized property value is $1.02 cents, or 7.6 percent, less than last year.
The proposed 2014-15 tax rate for the School District of Mauston means the owner of a home with an equalized value of $100,000 could expect to pay $1,241 in school taxes compared with $1,343 last year.
Equalized property value differs from assessed property value. The state bases aid to schools on an equalization formula. The formula aims to ensure fairness, while also providing school districts with a guaranteed tax base, by leveling differences among property values across taxing jurisdictions.
The tax levy funds only a portion of school costs. Public schools in Wisconsin receive funding from four sources: state aid, federal aid, local sources such as grants or student fees, and property taxes.
In addition to the lower tax rate, there is more good news in Mauston in the form of enrollment. Enrollment numbers are important because state aid to school districts is based upon student counts on the third Friday of September.
The recent enrollment trend in Mauston is up, thanks to open enrollment – the state policy that allows students in 5-year-old kindergarten through grade 12 to attend a nonresident school district.
Last school year, the district enjoyed a net gain in students from open enrollment, which brought nearly $190,000 in additional state aid. Mauston school officials expect a gain this year, too.
“Right now, head count is up but we will not know what that means for our full-time equivalency until the third Friday in September, the count date,” Lankey-Smallwood said.
There is also good news about property values – a key part of the school funding equation. Higher property values allow municipalities and school districts to generate the same amount of revenue from lower tax rates. A preliminary estimate indicates the value of taxable property within the School District of Mauston is up for the first time since the Great Recession of 2008.
“That would be wonderful news,” Lankey-Smallwood said.
The value of taxable property within the district for 2013 was just over $623 million. An early estimate pegs the 2014 value at $648.7 million, an increase of more than 4 percent.
But all the good news is tempered by what Lankey-Smallwood characterized as a constant struggle with cuts forced by state-imposed revenue limits.
The State Legislature enacted revenue limits in the early 1990s to control increasing property-tax levies. Lankey-Smallwood said in recent years the limits have forced cuts in supplies and equipment, and this year also forced the district to trim staff.
“Financially, it’s just really difficult in school districts right now,” Lankey-Smallwood said. “It just continues, the difficulty, and they really need to look at the way schools are funded.”