The future of a 61-cent property tax levy set to go off the books in 2024 was the focus of discussion at a meeting of the St. Joseph School District Finance Committee on Monday.
The conversation focused on two options: increasing the tax to 81 cents with a sunset clause to use it on teachers’ and staff salaries, or keeping the amount at 61 cents but removing a sunset clause to make it permanent do. The St. Joseph Board of Education may decide to put the issue before voters in August. No final decision has been made on what to present to voters.
St. Joseph School District Superintendent Doug Van Zyl said too many options on a ballot create confusion and usually turn voters off. He encouraged the board to come to a resolution on a proposal for the tax and not leave either open to public debate.
Kenneth Reeder, member of the Board of Education, and Gabe Edgar, who is set to become the district’s next superintendent this summer, discussed other tax-related issues together, including school closures and mergers, and emphasized that the faster the public can vote on the tax , the sooner these problems can be solved.
“For me, that is the reason for running in August. We need to start these conversations, we need to have them,” Edgar said when asked where his priorities lie in discussing with the community. “If it’s over in August, those talks need to start on August 4th or the next day.”
Discussing an increase in the tax, board members questioned whether or not the community would go along with it and vote for it.
Committee members also discussed the possibility of initially going for the 81 cents and, if the public votes against it, reverting back to the 61 cents as a compromise.
An overwhelming concern revolved around “when” to vote on the issue. Edgar emphasized that it is in everyone’s interest to present changes to the fee to the municipality as quickly as possible.
“We’re putting it out in August because, as you know, we have a lot of things to do and we’d rather start those talks now,” Edgar said. “Because if you launch them in April 2023, you know what? You’re already at ’24, ’25 before you can make a difference… So that’s our selling point.”
The committee broke up after an hour-long discussion, during which Edgar relayed the talking points from the meeting to the full board and was given sample ballots with both proposed tax amounts to share with the group.
The board will vote later this month with a decision on how to proceed. If not, the committee will hold a special session to revisit the conversation.
After 2024, failure to renew the levy could result in about $8 million in pay freezes and budget cuts.