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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Grand Forks Schools tax plan passes

  • Nearly 40 people broke into a round of applause Monday when a motion to increase property taxes by 28.6 percent failed at the Grand Forks School Board meeting.
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  • Nearly 40 people broke into a round of applause Monday when a motion to increase property taxes by 28.6 percent failed at the Grand Forks School Board meeting.
    But the motion that passed in its place received little fanfare from residents.
    That motion, proposed by board member Kelly Hogness, puts the district’s new tax rate at 89.78 mills. Taxes would still increase by 21.6 percent, but the district would be required to deficit spend.
    “If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we’ll never cut,” Hogness said.
    Hogness’ motion, passed by a vote of 7-2, also asked that the board strive to cut 16 mills in the next two years, bringing the school’s mill rate to the full 50-mill buydown approved by the state Legislature this year.
    The 28-percent increase was proposed to cover a nearly $5.4-million deficit the district is facing due to what officials say was caused mostly by enrollment growth not being paid for by state funding.  
    Two other options besides the 28-percent increase and the 21-percent increase created by Hogness were presented to the board by Vicky Schwartz, district business manager. One had the district raising taxes by 23 percent and the other included no tax increase.
    Resident comments
    Before the board passed the 21-percent increase, residents were given a chance to comment on the original proposal.
    Few had pleasant words for board members with several choosing to criticize their spending history and reasons for proposing the tax increase.
    “I don’t think anyone should play the ‘we love the children’ card,” said C.T. Marhula, a Grand Forks resident and former school board member.
    He proposed dropping the property tax discount to the full 50 mills and taking money from the building fund to cover revenues lost from reducing the mill rate.
    Resident Schurkey Swanke proposed a similar solution, but asked that the school’s building fund be shut down.
    “Your spending habits have cost you citizen trust,” he told the board.
    Though board member Cynthia Schabb said people had approached her and said they were in favor of the increase, Swanke was not convinced.
    “They don’t seem to be here tonight,” he said, drawing a round of applause from spectators.
    Swanke wasn’t the last resident to deliver a speech that brought clapping from the board’s audience.
    Terry Bjerke, who said he was appearing as a taxpayer and not as member of City Council, chided the board for saying parents want quality schools and so the district must spend money to comply.
    “The parents aren’t the only ones that count,” he said. “You represent the taxpayers… You represent all of us.”
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