The Fort Dodge Community School District hosted a forum Thursday at Fort Dodge Senior High to explain the importance of Tuesday's special election on the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy.
The district is asking voters to both renew the current 67 cent levy for another 10 years and approve another 67 cent increase. With the school board-approved 33 cents, this will give the district the maximum $1.67 levy per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
For a residential property owner with a valuation of $100,000, the levy increase will equal an additional $34.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Community Schools board member Deb Peterson listens Thursday evening during a public information meeting held in the Fort Dodge Senior High library to explain the proposed Physical Plant and Equipment Levy.
"This levy will expire," Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, said. "And if this levy expires and doesn't get passed, the only thing that is there is the 33 cents the board is able to pass, so you're going from almost $900,000 to probably $300,000. We would lose $600,000, which would have a huge impact on us when we already have difficulty maintaining our facilities."
The allowable uses for the PPEL are "very specific and well-defined," Brandon Hansel, FDCSD director of financial services, explained. The funds can only be used for construction and maintenance projects, technology and transportation equipment.
"We have 38 big yellow buses around the district," he said. "We transport about 1,500 kids daily out of our 3,700. Over the course of the year, we'll put 400,000 miles on those buses. Each of those buses costs us about $80,000 to $90,000. We need to purchase three or four of them annually to maintain our fleet and stay within safety compliance."
The PPEL does not fund school programs, activities or supplies. The new middle school construction, Hansel noted, is being paid for with the capital project funds.
The current levy generates $898,863 yearly for the district. Expenses in the fund's budget include $350,000 for vehicles, $250,000 for general building repairs and $100,000 for technology infrastructure.
"If those items aren't funded with PPEL, then scarce general fund dollars have to cover these expenses," Hansel said. "Every dollar we spend is important, and each dollar we spend needs to have a well-defined and specific purpose."
Many district projects, specifically roof replacements, are deferred because the funds are already limited.
"A good example would be Duncombe (Elementary)," Hansel said. "It's a 100-year-old building, it's a source of tremendous pride and history for the community, but obviously anything that's 100 years old starts to get some aches and pains. In order to put a new roof on Duncombe, it would cost $175,000."
Fort Dodge Senior High, Hansel said, has 26 roof sections, each costing $75,000 to $100,000. One section is replaced every year.
"If you were to add up the total infrastructure needs for the district, including our Senior High master plan, the total would come to approximately $77 million," he said. "Our current level of revenue would have a hard time servicing all those needs."
Hansel noted the allowable growth for fiscal year 2014 has not been set yet by the state Legislature, stimulus fund dollars will be exhausted this year and there's a chance of federal sequestration, making budgeting for the coming year already problematic.
"Those are just some of the factors. There are many others that are severely constricting our general fund," he said. "The physical plant and equipment levy is a tool the board can use to preserve our general fund dollars for their intended purpose, which is to fund instructional programs."
The levy rate for the district dropped from $17.39 in fiscal year 2012 to $15.49 in fiscal year 2013.
"Right now, this is the lowest our tax levy rate has been for many years," Van Zyl said. "The board didn't just do that lightly. They took into account some of the things we would need for the school district and it made sense to be able to make some of those reductions and then come back and ask people to support it."