Tax relief may be key in referendum vote
When Margo and Rob White were considering a move after their active military service ended, they drew up a list.
Blooming Prairie was one of the choices, and at the top of the list of positives, Margo said, was education.
That’s why, four years after returning to her hometown, she has served on all of the committees involved in assessing the need for a bond referendum for Blooming Prairie Public Schools.
“And now I’m on the advocacy committee,” White said last week, after the first of two informational meetings to discuss the nearly $34 million, two-question referendum. “We’re out there articulating what it means, educating people on what they can expect.”
After an overview of the projects proposed, the public was offered the opportunity to speak to representatives of Baird Financial to discuss tax impacts, a representative from Wold Architects and Engineers to talk about the design plans, and members of the school board and administration for any other questions and concerns.
The main issue is space – or the lack thereof. The plan calls for moving the fifth- and sixth-graders to the high school building, freeing up the space they currently occupy in the elementary building.
The space will be used to provide more room for special education classes, move band lessons out of storage closets and move art classes out of the cafeteria. Kindergarten classrooms will be retrofitted with bathrooms, and improvements will be made to the indoor air quality systems in the gym and cafeteria. The parking lot and roof would be repaired, as well.
At the high school building, new classrooms are proposed for the northwest end of the school; art and music spaces would be added; industrial tech upgrades would be made; the Commons are expanded; and a performing arts center would be built.
Also, part of Question 1: new baseball and softball fields, work on parking lots, and converting the high school stage area to a cardio area.
The projects carry a $27.6 million price tag; Question 2 asks for $6.4 million for “the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities,” including a new high school gym.
A look at the district’s enrollment numbers in just the last year indicate why space is at a premium: The 2020-21 school year began with 386 elementary school students; this school year began with 470 students, plus about 80 children in pre-kindergarten.
Bond questions also mean questions about tax impacts to district residents.
“I never say, ‘taxes only go up this much,’” said Superintendent Chris Staloch. “It isn’t ‘only’ when it comes to taxes.”
Traditionally, ag land owners took the biggest hit when it came to tax increases to pay for bond referendums, because they’re often the people who own the most land in rural districts.
“Before, about 65% of our tax base was ag land,” Staloch said. “Now, it’s about 25%.”
That’s thanks to the Ag2School Tax Credit, which was signed into Minnesota law in 2017.
The law initially provided a credit of 40% on property taxes for agricultural property for existing or future school district building debt. It was updated during the 2019 legislative session, providing even greater benefit.
The ag credit for taxes payable in 2021 is 55%; it increases to 60% in 2022, and to 70% in 2023 and beyond.
In short: Ag landowners will pay less taxes in 2023 than they did in 2017.
“It’s definitely a different landscape for ag owners than it was before,” said Staloch.
Residential homeowners are also eligible for an annual tax refund: Homeowners with an income under $116,180 are eligible for a property tax refund of up to $2,840.
Renters, too, can receive a refund.
A special residential property tax refund is also available, if the net property tax has increases by more than 12%, and is at least $100.
If the referendum in Blooming Prairie passes, a home valued at $150,000 would pay an additional $185 per year in taxes.
But with the regular property tax refund of $123, the net impact drops to an additional $62 per year.
Still, Staloch said he recognizes any increase has an effect on families.
“I don’t live in their shoes,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for our kids now and in the future.”
Another informational meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the BPHS Commons.
Election Day is Nov. 2, with polls open from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Blooming Prairie City Council Chambers.