Every two years in the state of Montana our elected state senators and house representatives head to Helena to set state budgets and modify, set, or remove laws for the people of Montana.
This year is currently a legislative session, and it is time to see what is going to happen to budgets and new requirements for schools. As a school district, we are always sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what effects the current legislation will have on our current operating budgets. This leads to the discussion of whether to run local mill levies to cover funding shortages from the State.
This year Columbus Schools will not be receiving the funding of past years; however, we feel that we have the resources and have implemented the spending cuts to make it through this year without running a mill levy while still providing an outstanding education. The district is, though, faced with new requirements that I feel need some explanation.
One of the current bills being proposed at the legislature this session is Senate Bill 307. Senate Bill 307 includes a new notice requirement that will kick in immediately if passed. This notice applies to all school district non-voted levies, known as permissive mills, adopted by motion of a board of trustees and is required before our board can impose an increase in revenues or mills next year for the following: Adult Education Levy, Bus Depreciation Reserve Levy, Transportation Levy, Tuition Levy and a new school facilities levy to be published.
This bill has two parts: One, it gives the districts milling authority to support our building reserve fund, and two, it provides transparency of what the district is milling on non-voted levies. The new school facilities levy is designed to help schools offset costs from our general budgets for deferred maintenance projects and continuous upkeep.
The district always runs permissive levies. This is not a new tax you are going to be required to pay; however, it is part of an on-going funding mechanism for all schools to fund programs and services outside of our general operating funds.
Each year the board sets the number of mills needed in each of the above- listed funds to support and maintain the areas of school requirements such as providing transportation. I am attaching four charts to help explain our permissive levies. There are separate charts for the elementary district and high school district.
Each district has a chart that explains the current mills we are operating upon and another that projects what we anticipate the district will need to maintain our current services in the upcoming school year.
The two areas of increase from last year to this year will be the Tuition Fund, which is a fund we use to offset Special Education costs, and the Building Reserve Fund, which will be used for deferred maintenance.
You will notice that we have tried very hard not to increase the mills from last year, and if we did, it was minimal. I have moved the number of mills of other funds to offset anticipated costs in maintenance and special education. One variable that needs to be mentioned is that these figures are estimated due to the fact that the school district doesn’t receive the taxable values of our district property values until August of each year.
This allows for some changes in millage of high or lower values dependent upon our taxable values. The taxable value for Columbus School District has been pretty consistent in past years with the taxable values slightly increasing lowering the number of mills necessary to operate these funds.
In the legal section of the Stillwater County News, you will notice the public notice the Columbus School District is required to publish every year stating the district’s estimated proposed millage for the funds stated above.
On the chart in the legal section of the paper, you will notice the number of mills proposed, whether they are an increase or a decrease from the previous year, the amount the new mills will generate in revenue, and the effect those mills will have on a house of $100,000 and $200,000 for each fund.
In closing, the Board and I feel that fiscal responsibility is the key to determining our budgeting needs. We have continued to trim from areas of the budget that we believe will have less of an impact in a given year and moved funding to those we foresee as areas of need.
We will continue to work as a team in being responsible in our budgeting process. Thank you for your support of our school district.