Portage school tax rate should be lower this year, administrators say

September 18, 2018

Property owners residing in the Portage Community School District should see a modest decrease in their school tax rate for 2018-19.

During the district’s budget hearing Monday, Business Manager Peter Hibner projected a tax rate of $9.19 per $1,000 of equalized value — a 5-cent decrease from the previous year.

The projections amount to $919 for a $100,000 home, $1,378.50 for a $150,000 home, $1,838 for a $200,000 home and $2,757 for a $300,000 home.

The total tax levy is projected at $11.83 million and the new school budget should be balanced at $28.57 million, Hibner reported. Portage is projecting an overall increase of 2 percent in salaries for all staff. Specific raises for staff factor in start dates and professional growth incentives.

Portage voters in 2016 approved a five-year operational referendum that allows the district to exceed the state-mandated revenue limit by up to $2.6 million each year, but for 2018-19 the district expects to use only $1.9 million instead of the full $2.6 million.

“That’s big for us because we promised our taxpayers that we’d only use what’s necessary,” Hibner said prior to the budget hearing. “We have a good history of doing that.”

The district is expected to finalize its budget Oct. 22. Still to be determined before the budget is finalized are property valuations, student enrollment, state aid certification and the effect of the state voucher program.

Portage had 24 students using the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program for 2017-18, most of them attending St. John’s Lutheran School in Portage. Former superintendent Charles Poches had estimated that the parental choice program cost the district about $181,000 in lost state aid, money the district makes up with referendum dollars.

According to state estimates from July, state aid for Portage is expected to decrease from $13.6 million in 2017-18 to $12.9 million for 2018-19, Hibner said. The district is projecting about a 1 percent increase in property values – from $1.27 billion last year to $1.28 billion in 2018-19. The property value estimate is on the “conservative side of things,” Hibner said, noting the district could see as much as a 3-percent increase. The school tax rate could be as low as $9 if that’s the case, he added.

Last year’s school tax rate of $9.24 marked the lowest in the Badger North Conference, which includes school districts of Baraboo ($9.25), Reedsburg ($9.31), Mount Horeb ($10.47), Sauk Prairie ($9.53), DeForest ($10.10) and Waunakee ($11.37), Hibner reported. Among other area school districts last year, only Poynette had a lower school tax rate at $9.06. Districts with higher tax rates than Portage in 2017-18 included Rio ($12.40), Lodi ($11.13) and Pardeeville ($10.90).

Portage’s school tax rate in 2017-18 was more than 50 cents lower than the state average of $9.77. Hibner and Superintendent Margaret Rudolph said they expect taxpayers to once again be paying below the state average and the district to rank favorably among its neighbors.

“All of our money is for general operations – we don’t have any debt,” said Rudolph, who served as Portage’s business manager prior to succeeding Poches as superintendent this summer.

The district has been debt-free for about two years.

“We were very aggressive in our repayment of the maintenance referendum and the new high school,” added Hibner, referring to the 2008 referendum of $2.3 million that paid for roofing projects and other building upgrades, as well as construction of the new high school that opened in 1997, which had cost the district $14.9 million.

Aggressive repayments were made in an effort to reduce interest costs, the administrators said.

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