R-II Board Approves Small Tax Rate Increase For 2020-21

By MARK EVANS

mevans@stegenherald.com

After responding to complaints by county resident Sam Barbagallo during a public tax rate hearing prior to its monthly meeting on August 25, the Ste. Genevieve R-II Board of Education voted to set a new tax rate for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The rates show a slight increase over the previous year. The total rate of $3.4617 per $100 of assessed valuation, just up from $3.4612 this past year and $3.4590 the year before that.

The only increase was in Fund 1, the General (or Incidental) Fund. It increased from $1.8412  to $1.8417. A year ago it had gone from $1.8390 to $1.8412.

Fund 2, known as the Teachers’ Fund, stayed at $1.1800, a figure at which it has held steady for several years.

Meanwhile, Fund 3, the Debt Service Fund, which increased two years ago from 26 cents to 44 cents, remained at 44 cents. It had been steady at 26 cents since the early 1980s.

It was increased in 2018 due to anticipated bigger bond payments coming up. The 2018-19 bond payment was a little over $1,418,000, while the 2019-20 was projected to be a little over $1,430,000. It will jump to more than $2.5 million for 2020-21, before dropping back to $1.3 million in 2021-22.

That 2018 increase also had to do with concerns about Holcim Concrete. Holcim will come onto the county tax rolls in January 2021, but may well challenge its assessment. Up to now the concrete firm has made payments in lieu of taxes [PILOT] each year. If Holcim does appeal, the district would get nothing from Holcim during the appeal process.

Superintendent Dr. Julie Flieg noted at the hearing that the district will look into whether the 44-cent rate can be lowered next year, after the bond payments drop back to normal.

The Fund 1 (and overall) increase, board president David Bova said, is just 5/10,000 of one percent, which he said is “not a major increase.”

With increases in assessed valuation and new construction, a slight increase in revenue is projected. The total collection in 2019 would have been $13.7 million, if 100 percent had been collected. As it was, 94.4 percent, or a little above $13.5 million, came in. This year’s revenue is projected at $14.1 million, if 100 percent is collected. Anticipating a 93 percent collection rate, Flieg expects about $13.1 million to actually come in. She said she should have a better idea of the exact figure by January.

It was also pointed out that the $3.4642 is one of the lowest rates in the region, with only Arcadia Valley and one other school district in the area having lower rates.

Bova also pointed  out that with the pandemic, more money is being spent on cleaning the buildings, including  hiring two additional custodians.

Flieg  said trying to budget during the pandemic  is an ever-changing challenge.

“Nobody has an answer for how this works. We do the best we can,” she said. “Every day we think we’re on the right path and it’s pretty solid. But, an hour later you get thrown a curve ball and you have to reassess everything.”

Bova said a resident who owns a $200,000 home would pay an additional $19 or so a year.

Barbagallo was upset that word had not gotten out better about the hearing.

He said he just happened to find it on social media and said the district “dropped the ball” by not getting word out. Flieg explained that a notice was sent to the Herald in time for its deadline to run in the August 19 issue but that the Herald accidentally failed to run it. She also said the individual who handles social media posting for the schools had been on vacation.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” she said.

Law states that notice of the hearing will be given by publication in a newspaper of general circulation or by posting such notice in at least three public places within the district.  The legal notice was posted at the Ste. Genevieve City Hall, Ste. Genevieve County Courthouse, the R-II district office and all four other R-II buildings.  Posting on social media is not recognized as a publication of the notice.

Barbagallo suggested the hearing should have been pushed back. Flieg told him the budget had to be set by September 1

Barbagallo claimed there was “no justification” for raising rates when the residents have been pounded by the COVID-1 shutdown and there are “a  lot of people struggling.” He noted that local food banks cannot keep up with demand.

Bova replied that some of the school board members had actually taken boxes of food to food pantries and are very aware of the situation.

When Barbagallo said more than one person would have shown up to complain, had more notice been given, Bova replied that in past years, when more notice was given, virtually no one ever attended the hearings.

MOST STUDENTS ATTENDING LIVE

During her superintendent’s report, Flieg gave some enrollment numbers. While she did not give actual numbers of students, she broke down how students at each school are attending.

At Bloomsdale Elementary, 7 percent are doing virtual learning from home, while 5 percent are doing blended learning. The other 88 percent are going to classes for live learning.

At Ste. Genevieve Elementary, the numbers are 11.7 percent virtual, 9.6 percent blended and 78.7 percent live.

The middle school and high school, due to number of students and available space, 100 percent live classes are not an option. At the middle school, 10.8 percent are doing virtual learning and 89.2 percent blended. The high school figures are 12 percent virtual and 88 percent blended.

The district totals are 10.4 percent virtual, 48 percent blended and 41.7 percent live.

It appears the total number of students enrolled is down by about 245.

“That may and may not be accurate,” Flieg said.

Meanwhile 19 pre-schoolers had enrolled in Ste. Genevieve and 19 in Bloomsdale, along with 20 elementary special education students.

Flieg also complimented her custodial staff for doing “a fantastic job” and taking advantage of extra time to get the buildings as clean as possible.

The tech department also deserved kudos, Flieg said. They had the foresight to order additional computers early, realizing increased distance learning would probably cause a backlog of orders. As a result, the R-II district has received its computers, while many districts are on a  waiting list.