As promised, PW-S school taxes on the rise Print
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 25 October 2017 18:31

Average tax bill expected to increase by $68 to finance $49.4 million facility improvement referendum

   Port Washington-Saukville School District taxes will increase again under a 2017-18 budget and tax levy approved by the School Board Monday, but that should not come as a surprise, officials said.
    “That’s exactly what we predicted,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said, referring to the impact of the $49.4 million referendum approved by voters in April 2015.
    The otherwise flat property tax levy is being driven by a referendum debt repayment schedule that was drafted before voters approved a referendum to pay for a $3.8 million addition to Dunwiddie Elementary School and the $45.6 million renovation and reconstruction of Port Washington High School and calls for the tax rate to increase next year, then remain steady for three more years before gradually decreasing.
    The payment plan is designed to chip away at the principal early to minimize financing costs and give the district flexibility toward the end of schedule. The referendum debt is to be paid in full by 2040.
    The result this school year is a tax levy that will increase by $612,058, or 3.8%, to $16.6 million.
    The tax rate will increase by 17 cents, or 1.65%, to $10.37 per $1,000 of equalized property value. Of the $10.37 tax rate, $1.58 will be used to pay referendum debt.
    Theoretically that means that the school tax bill for a $175,000 home would increase by $68.47 when adjusted for a 2.15% increase in district property values.
    The actual impact on tax bills, however, will depend on how property values changed in the various communities within the school district. For instance, in the City of Port Washington, where property values increased the most, the school tax bill for a $175,000 home is expected to jump by $96.73. But in portions of the Village of Saukville and Town of Port Washington that are within the district, where property values decreased, the school tax bill increase is expected to be $29.06 and $10.25, respectively.
    Among other significant factors in the budget is a $683,245, or 5.1%, cut in general state aid because of a decline in enrollment last year and increasing property values.
    The aid formula is designed to provide more state funding for poorer school districts — those with less property value per student — and less aid for districts that have high property values per student.
    For instance, while the Port Washington-Saukville School District received $13.4 million in general state aid for the 2016-17 school year, the Mequon-Thiensville School District, which has a significantly higher property value, received only $2.5 million.
    While fewer students and a higher property value mean less state aid for the Port-Saukville School District, that doesn’t mean the district will have to make do with less. Instead, it means local property taxpayers will pay more and the state will pay less to fund education. This school year, local property taxes will account for 51% of the district’s revenue, while the state will contribute 47%.
    The issue for the Port-Saukville District is that the last of a series of relatively large classes has graduated. And although enrollment is strong in the primary grades, so strong that additional teachers have been hired, it may take several years for enrollment to rebound.
    That said, Froemming noted, the outlook for the district is positive. Enrollment has increased this year, which bodes well for the financial future of the district.
    “With more students this year, it stands to reason we should get more aid next year because we have more kids,” he said.
    Froemming said the substantial investment taxpayers are making in school improvements can only help drive the increase in enrollment.
    “For me, the biggest positive news overall is increasing enrollment,” he said. “All of a sudden people are seeing a new high school taking shape and improvements to Dunwiddie and they’re saying, ‘This is a community we want to live in.’”
    Working in the district’s favor in this year’s budget, the district’s health insurance premium will essentially remain flat and categorical state aid will increase by $200 per student. The increase is worth about $500,000 to the district, Froemming said.
    But this year’s budget was not without challenges, Supt. Michael Weber said. The district had to find money to add teaching positions to address increasing enrollment in its elementary schools and paraprofessionals to handle the growing demands of special education services.
    In addition, the budget includes modest raises for staff members and pay increases intended to attract and retain young teachers.