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West Fargo school district taxpayers likely to see a decrease next year

West Fargo Public Schools will reduce its mill levy by 7 mills.

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WEST FARGO — Although West Fargo Public Schools officials are happy the 2022-2023 mill levy can be lowered by about 7 mills, they are unable to spend those savings on higher compensation packages for staff, but they hope to find other ways to do that.

On Monday, July 25, Business Manager Levi Bachmeier presented the school district's 2022-2023 preliminary budget. In it, the general mill levy will be reduced from 143.16 mills to 136.17 mills.

"We are in a position where we are able to substantially lower the mills that are required to service our debt," Bachmeier said. "We could reduce mills by nearly 7."

This means that on a $100,000 home, the tax savings would be about $31.46. For a $250,000 home, taxpayers would see a savings of $78.64.

If a home has an increased valuation, its overall tax bill that includes city, county, parks and school district taxes could be larger than last year.

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This decrease in mills comes amid continued rapid growth in the city. West Fargo Public Schools expects to grow by about 506 students to a total of about 12,760 students next year. However, the district's taxable valuations saw large increases this year.

"The preliminary numbers we have received have been surprisingly large," Bachmeier said.

He said Monday that the district continues to work on improving and growing compensation packages for educators, but under state law, the district can only use funds for staffing from the miscellaneous levy, special reserve levy or the general fund. Those three levies are maxed out by state standards, and the district cannot raise them to increase salaries or teacher retention efforts.

"We're able to mill less, but we're still doing everything we can to put together competitive packages for our staff," Bachmeier said.

The district is expecting about $10,237 per student in state aid. The district will receive about 70% of its state aid quickly this year, as the state has moved to an "on-time" funding mechanism.

School Board Member Jim Jonas said he plans to "harp" on the state legislature to improve that funding timing when he begins his first year as a District 13 Representative in the North Dakota State House of Representatives.

The school district's levies are based on the taxable valuation of the nearly dozen taxing entities that make up the school district, which includes not just all of the city of West Fargo but the cities of Fargo, Harwood, Horace and Reiles Acres along with Barnes, Berlin, Harwood, Mapleton, Raymond, Reed and Stanley townships. The total valuation that makes up the district's mills will rise about 12%, or about $55 million.

While Horace has the highest increase in taxable valuation at about 26%, for the first time since 1996, the city of West Fargo's taxable valuation income will be higher than the portions of Fargo that are included in the West Fargo school district.

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West Fargo's total valuation is up 15.26%, while Fargo is increasing only 7.39%.

Although the school district will be able to reduce its mills, it will still face significant expenses and workforce challenges.

The district plans to purchase a $19,000 activities bus and will spend about $15,000 to cover a school resource position for Heritage Middle School and Horace High School.

It will also spend about $1.4 million on iPads to continue its technology program for students. The district will pay for some items that it was unable to receive or order last year due to supply change issues including additional buses totaling $850,000.

Bachmeier said he incorporated specific goals of the district into next year's budget, such as following the strategic plan, retention and recruitment of educators, managing growth — especially south of Interstate 94 with Horace and Sheyenne high schools — ensuring long term financial sustainability and proactively leveraging ESSER funds to best support students, staff and taxpayers.

Budget challenges include rising health insurance costs, state-imposed mill levy caps, inflation and the uncertainty of state funding.

"Workforce and inflation are some big realities in our world as they are in almost any business in Cass County," Bachmeier said.

The School Board will approve the preliminary budget at its Aug. 8 meeting. It must be submitted to Cass County by Aug. 10, and a public hearing will be held Sept. 12 before the budget is approved Sept. 26. The district's final budget is due Oct. 10.

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READ MORE FROM WEST FARGO EDITOR WENDY REUER
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Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

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As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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