School budget calls for steep decrease in tax rate

Increases in aid and valuation, pandemic relief funds add up to lowest rate since levy limits imposed
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Grafton School District residents will see a significant decrease in their school taxes this coming year.

On Monday, residents approved a 2022-23 tax levy of $17.9 million, a decrease of 4.8% from last year’s levy of $18.8 million.

The levy is needed to support a 2022-23 budget of $25.3 million, an increase of $521,000 from last year.

The tax rate needed to raise the levy is $7.96 per $1,000 equalized valuation, a decrease of more than 14% from last year’s rate of $9.28.

That means the owner of a house with an equalized value of $300,000 will pay $2,389 in school taxes, down $396 from last year’s tax bill of $2,784.

That rate, Director of Business Services Topher Adams said, is the lowest since revenue limits were imposed by the state in 1993.

Adams said the biggest reasons for the decrease in the tax rate are an estimated $2.5 million increase in state equalized aid and an 11% increase in the district’s equalized valuation.

Another thing helping the district this year is the fact that it has claimed $2.3 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds.

Adams said that last year the School Board set aside $2 million of these funds in its fund balance, and it decided to use $600,000 of it to offset this year’s tax levy.

The remaining $1.4 million remains in the district’s fund balance — essentially a bank account that can be tapped to meet expenses — and can be used to offset future budget increases, Adams said.

Even after using the ESSER funds for this year’s budget, he noted, the district still has a healthy fund balance of about $5 million, which aligns with board policy ands allows the district to maintain a good credit rating, lower any short-term borrowing costs and ensures there’s enough money to cover unexpected expenses.

Expenditures this year are up about $500,000, Adams said, a 2% increase from last year but far less than the expected 8% increase due to inflation. Much of that is due to the addition of six teachers needed to meet increasing enrollment.

The 2022-23 enrollment increased by 64 students, to 2,108 pupils. Although Adams said the district was expecting an increase due to the number of new houses in the district, he said officials hadn’t expected as many new students.

Adams noted that the district is not making a payment on its referendum debt, but next year will make two payments. By balancing these payments with equalized aid, the district can limit the possible loss of aid and keep its payments relatively stable.

The district is, however, making a $504,000 debt service payment on other loans it has.

Adams noted that the budget and levy numbers will be tweaked next month after the district receives final numbers from the state on such things as the certified property value, revenue limits and enrollment.

The final budget and levy will be certified by the School Board on Oct. 24.

In other action Monday, residents at the annual meeting approved School Board salaries for next year. Board officers — the president, vice president, clerk and treasurer —will be paid $1,550 and other board members will be paid $1,450.

Both reflect a $50 increase from last year.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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