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District tax levy less than first expected

New Richmond area property owners received some good news last week.

The New Richmond School Board approved its 2008-09 budget and tax levy during a special meeting Oct. 28.

While the District budget increased about $1.47 million for the year (about a 6 percent hike), taxpayers will only be seeing a slight increase in their taxes.

Taxpayers with a home valued at $200,000 will see a $64 increase in their annual school-related property tax.

That's considerably less than the $150 tax increase for a $200,000 home that was projected during school referendum planning two years ago.

"We're pretty happy about that," said School Superintendent Morrie Veilleux.

Property taxes rose the expected amount last year ($150 for a $200,000 home) due to increased spending for new schools in the District. This year was different, Veilleux said.

School officials broke the news about the favorable property tax increase at a recent joint meeting with city and surrounding township officials.

"They all kind of smiled," Veilleux said of the reaction. "It raised a few eyebrows. They asked 'How did you guys do that.'"

For starters, the District saw a significant increase in its state aid this year.

Veilleux said this year's budget is the first to include student enrollment figures for the recently established pre-kindergarten program in the District.

With a "membership" count of 118 in the 4-K program, the District receives $5,500 in added state aid per student member. The cost of providing the pre-K program for parents is less than $5,500 per student, however, so the District ends up with more money to operate its overall programs as a result.

Also, Veilleux said, land values in New Richmond went down on a per-student basis (more students divided into overall land values that are not rising). That means that the complicated state aid formula works in favor of District taxpayers this year.

"It makes us poorer in the eyes of the state," he explained.

Because of higher student numbers and the formula shift, state aid for New Richmond School District is about $2 million more this year compared to last year. State aid totals $17.1 million for 2008-09.

The positive state aid news was coupled with the School Board's commitment to keep taxes down, despite putting an additional building into operation this fall, Veilleux said.

"The public spoke loud and clear ... you're going to have to staff it within your budget," he said. "We were able to do that."

Voters rejected a plea from the District to approve an additional $500,000 to staff and operate Hillside Elementary when it opened in September. They rejected that referendum question two years ago.

The school taxes will be included in tax statements that will be due starting on Jan. 31, 2009.