Owen-Withee School District puts operating referendum on the April 2 ballot


On April 2, voters in the Owen-Withee School District will be asked to vote on an operating referendum that will allow the school district to exceed their levy limit by $800,000 per year for the next four years. The current referendum, which expires at the end of this school year, was for $400,000 per year for the past five years. The referendum will be used for operating expenses, such as paying staff wages and benefits, which is the largest portion of the budget, and maintaining the current building.
Current forecasts show that if the referendum passes, there would be surplus funds in the first two years which would be used in the last two years of the referendum. The surplus would sit in fund balance until needed. The numbers were projected using a 2-3 percent increase in expenses per year, a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs, and a 3 percent increase in equalized valuation. It also assumes that there will be 30 students entering kindergarten each year and that staffing stays the same.
Based on those assumptions, Robert W. Baird Co. came up with a forecast model for what the school portion of taxes might be on a home in the school district. It can’t account for changes in assessment or improvements to property. In 2022-2023 a house with an equalized value, not assessment, of $100,000 paid $760 in property taxes. Looking at the equalized value increase in 2023-2024, that same house would be valued at $115,637 and property taxes would be $871. Following through with this model, in 2024-2025, the value would be $119,106 and the taxes $848, for 2025-2026, the value would be $122,679 and the taxes $872, for 2026-2027, the value would be $126,360 and the taxes $911, and in 2027-2028, the value would be $130,151 and the taxes $941. This assumes a 3 percent increase in equalized valuation for each year of the referendum. The tax levy in 2023-2023 was $7.60. For this year it was $7.53. For the four years of the referendum, it is projected to be $7.12, $7.11, $7.21, and $7.23.
In the past the district has prepaid debt, reduced staff, and applied for grants to help minimize impact on district taxpayers. The increase in the amount being asked for has nothing to do with the Forward Center or the Fitness Center, both of which were paid for mostly through donations and grants. It has to do with inflation and the rising cost of everything.
If the referendum fails, the district can try again in November, but in the meantime will have to make some tough choices on what can be cut from the budget. This is needed as they plan for the next school year, as any non-renewals of staff have to be done soon. It could also mean staff having to pay more for health insurance or getting little to no increase in wages. Programs would also need to be looked at to decide what can and can’t be offered next year.
Anyone who has questions can contact District Administrator Scott Winch 715-229-2151 before going to the polls to vote.