Bemidji residents will have the chance to weigh in on whether or not to approve a Bemidji Area Schools operating referendum on Election Day.

The question on the ballot will be: “Shall the revocation of the existing referendum authority and the replacement with a new referendum revenue authorization proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 31 (Bemidji), Minnesota be approved?”

In other words: if approved, this measure will remove the district’s existing referendum authority of $180 per pupil and enact a new one for $460 per pupil.

The tax would be first levied in 2020 for taxes payable in 2021 and applicable for 10 years unless otherwise revoked or reduced. The property tax portion of the revenue authorized will require an estimated referendum tax rate of 0.07384% for taxes payable in 2021.

If the referendum fails to pass, the district will likely need to make severe cuts. Board members have indicated that since 80% of the district’s budget goes toward staff wages and benefits, staffing changes would likely be in order.

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Where did the number come from?

Krisi Fenner, the Bemidji Area Schools director of Business Services, made a case for approval.

“It’s comparable to our peer groups and well below the state average. And it maximizes state funding, where the state will pick up the maximum amount of that levy with the least amount of burden on the taxpayers,” Fenner said. “As long as we continue to tighten our belts and be very conscientious of our spending, it allows us to sustain our current programming.”

The district finances were in rough shape prior to the pandemic. Through the federal CARES Act, schools should receive funding to help offset increased costs due to COVID-19, but the district will still need to implement cost-saving strategies and reductions wherever possible.

What does this mean for taxpayers?

For a homeowner with a property value of about $100,000, the additional taxes would be about $45 per year if voters choose “yes” this November.

Superintendent Tim Lutz compared this to the price of a cup of coffee per month.

The previous referendum authority was $180 per pupil, and the new one would be $460 per pupil, a $280 increase.

This does not affect summer homes and recreational residential properties. For agricultural property (both homestead and non-homestead), the taxes for the proposed referendum will be based on the value of the house, garage and one acre of land. There will be no referendum taxes paid on the value of agricultural land and buildings.