Detroit Lakes operating levy overwhelmingly passes
Detroit Lakes Public Schools will receive a financial boost next year as voters overwhelmingly approved an increased operating levy Tuesday.
The referendum passed by a 71 percent to 29 percent margin. Out of 2,263 votes cast, 1,613 votes were in favor of the levy, 649 against, with one spoiled ballot.
The levy will increase from $319 per pupil to $457 per pupil, with the district gaining over $400,000 in new operating revenue. The operating levy will last for 10 years.
With the increased levy, property taxes on a home assessed at $400,000 will go up by $2 per year, while property taxes on commercial, agriculture and seasonal properties will drop.
Despite the increase, the new operating levy will be just over half the statewide average of $827 per pupil.
"We would have liked to ask for more because we have some needs and wishes, but the taxpayers can't afford that now," said longtime Board Member Dr. Thomas Seaworth.
Numbers-wise, the result is a sharp turnaround from 2004, when voters rejected a $500 per pupil levy by a 57 percent-43 percent margin.
Superintendent Doug Froke said that the overwhelming support confirms what he thought of the community before taking the job three years ago.
"It resonates what we were told about the community before we moved here," he said of himself and his wife, "and how Detroit Lakes values education and takes our school very seriously."
There were still some nerves going into the last few weeks of the election, despite no organized opposition to the levy.
"We were concerned a lot heading into the election in the past couple of weeks that we weren't getting our message out," Froke said.
Specifically, he said that he worried that the message of the levy increase not leading to higher property taxes because of an expiring bond that funded construction at Roosevelt Elementary wouldn't hit home.
"Referendums are hard because you have to ask voters for more money," Seaworth said. "Even five years ago, it was hard to ask for money."
Add to that the current recession, with voters wanting more money in their pocketbooks.
"We were up front with the fact that if people voted no, they would see savings," Froke said.
School Board Chairman Tom Klyve echoed the concern that district residents have over the economy.
"People are concerned about money and how taxes are spent," he said. "I believe the School Board looks after people's money judiciously.
"We carefully guard all of the assets of the school district. Not only the money, but the fiscal assets and the staff."
Despite the added revenue, Klyve said that the district still needs to be frugal, as the state budget situation looks dire three years out.
"We're still going to have to wait until January with the state's budget, because they control most of our money," Klyve said. "This is going to help, but we have to see what's going to happen."
Seaworth said that cuts will still have to be made, but they won't be as deep as they would have been. Class sizes would have likely risen if the operating levy didn't pass.
"We'll probably have to make cuts as time goes by," he said. "But this will be helpful in maintaining small classes compared with what we would have, and trying to maintain programming."
He said that funding the school district means a lot to the community, as the schools give back in the form of culture, entertainment and service.
"In smaller towns, it's an important part of what we have for our lifestyle," Seaworth said of schools.