Rochester Taxes to Increase with School Board Vote

Created: 06/17/2014 10:34 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

A big change in the way your property taxes are set. Instead of having a vote of the community, local school districts can now do it themselves.
Taxes for those in the Rochester Public School District are going up, and no, you didn't miss the vote because a public vote was never held.
"We always are struggling to find revenues necessary to cover what we need to provide for students,” said Larry Smith, Executive Director of Finance, Rochester Public Schools.
Recently, state lawmakers changed the tax bill, giving local school districts the authority of passing a non-voter approved tax increase. That's exactly what the Rochester Public School Board did Tuesday.
"This is an opportunity where the board can take a little bit of that local control and have the ability to make decisions like that without having to go to voters,” said Superintendent Michael Munoz, Rochester Public Schools.
That's a big departure from how schools have been funded for decades and the ones footing the bill say they should have a say. "Any idea that has merit should be taken to the taxpayer by referendum,” said parent, Ben Befort.
RPS will soon see a $2.8 million a year increase in revenue, with $1.7 million of it coming from a new local property tax increase.  "On a $200,000 dollar residence, they're likely to see about a 57 dollar a year increase,” said Smith.
The remaining $1.1 million is provided through state aid. School officials saying the change in legislation levels the playing field. "City and counties, they can set the property tax level at what they need to just to support their operations, school districts in the past haven't had much flexibility,” said Smith.
With the school board calling the shots on this one, "This just shows how important local school board elections are and that we have quality candidates running and that we have an informed public voting in those elections,” said Senator Carla Nelson.
Many parents see the need for funding education, but just want a say in it. "It's a valuable, valuable investment, but again I think everyone should have their voice heard,” said Befort.
We’re told other school boards in Minnesota and even in our area have also taken advantage of this new provision. The increase will begin on taxes payable in 2015.

Photo: ABC 6 News