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NCHS Board approves tentative tax levy

By Todd Marver

The NCHS Board approved the tentative tax levy at its Tuesday, October 17 meeting.

Superintendent Brad Turner said the district is requesting almost $160,000 more than what it brought in this year across the seven or eight funds in about a $5 or $6 million budget, which he said is not a huge amount.

The tax levy increase on the estimate is 4.99%. Turner said if the district were to go over 5%, then it would hold a truth in taxation public hearing.

“We’d say we’re going to ask for more than 5% more than we brought in last year and the public has an opportunity to come in and ask questions. We’ve always tried to stay under that 5% threshold. If there was a need or a desire to go over that 5%, we certainly could ask for more, but we would have to go through that additional truth in taxation hearing step. We have not done that in the time I’ve been here. There certainly has not been a need to do that since I’ve been here. The amount of money we’re bringing in along with state aid has been sufficient,” he said.

The district’s tax rate this year is $1.84 and Turner is projecting the rate next year will be $1.83. Turner said his goal is to try to keep the tax rate as consistent as he can.

“If we have a big jump in EAV (Equalized Assessed Valuation), our rate is going to go down. If we have a year where our EAV doesn’t go up hardly at all, that rate is going to be higher than what I’m projecting. We’ve had pretty consistent positive growth in our EAV. The last four to seven years have been a pretty good size growth in our EAV. It’s a good thing for our community and for our district,” he said.

The projected growth estimate for this year is 4.86%. Turner said the last two or three years, he has based that percentage off of the average of the previous five years.

Turner said the district does not ever collect 100% and is usually in the 97 to 99% collection rate.

“It’s been good in Washington County, but it’s never usually 100%,” he said.

Turner said school districts are always typically the largest line item on any tax bill and the district takes a lot of heat for that at times, but he doesn’t think it’s always on the district’s shoulders. He said it also has something to do with what the assessor does with a property or what a property owner has done to a property.

“If your assessment goes up, your tax bill is going to go up typically. You had some new construction. We’ve had a lot of commercial growth out towards the interstate. We have some property in an enterprise zone. We have a little bit of property in a TIF. I moved down here from Greenville. Their whole interstate district is a huge TIF, which is a whole another deal. It prevents the school and taxing bodies from accessing those tax dollars. We have a very strong tax base and a lot of that is commercial. We have some railroad. We don’t have a lot of those enterprise or TIF areas that keeps us from accessing those funds, which is also good,” he said.

Turner said the levy is filed in December with Washington, Perry and Jefferson County Clerk’s offices because the district has property in each of those counties and collects taxes from each of those counties with the bulk of that coming from Washington County.

“Taxes are collected in 2024 and then it’s for our use in fiscal year 2025 in the 2024-2025 school year. That’s money we would actually collect at this time next year. Whatever our EAV is in 2024, we’ll get that from the county clerk in July or August,” he said.

Turner said the board will approve the final levy next month. He said he doesn’t anticipate it changing much.

“There’s not really another dollar or two that I can squeeze in there. Next month there will be some additional forms that I’ll have ready. I’ll have the actual tax levy form.  I’ll take the information and put it into the form and it has to get signed. From my standpoint, it is a little bit of a guessing game. They don’t usually start assessing property until after I’ve filed this,” he said.

The board approved the 2023-2024 risk management plan. Turner said what the district levies for in the tort fund is in direct correlation to the risk management plan and the only way the district can levy money in the tort fund for risk management is if it has an approved plan. He said the risk management plan outlines a myriad of positions in the district who have some responsibility for mitigating risk and there is a list of employees who are outlined in the risk management plan.

“Principal Mark Begando will spend a percentage of his time in risk management activities. He surveys the property every morning. He drives around and looks for any sort of condition on our property that might exist that might cause somebody to fall or trip as best we can. You have driver’s ed teachers, you have vocational teachers, you have PE teachers and athletic trainer when we have one. This plan has been in place since the early 90s. It hasn’t changed much since then. That’s where that amount of money comes from in the tort fund. We have to do that annually. We do that in October every year,” he said.

The board approved an overnight trip request from the Lifesavers Club.

“They went last year down to Du Bois Center over a weekend. It’s a Friday night and Saturday night and they come back Sunday. It’s a training for the leadership of Lifesavers Clubs from all over. It’s not just ours. Last year it was a valuable thing for that group and (Danielle Schultz) wants to take this year’s group back as well,” Turner said.

The board approved the formation of a chess club. Turner said some students requested through the principal to start a chess club. He said this is strictly a social thing and at this point, they’re not talking about competing or joining the IHSA chess competitions.

“Mr. (Alex) Haglund who is in our library now is willing to supervise/sponsor the chess club. The kids would probably meet in the library one day a week or a couple times a month. Because they’re going to be on property with a staff member supervising them, I’d like to get the board’s stamp of approval on that,” he said.

The board approved the adoption of updated policy 4:80 accounting and audits. This is a change in the revolving fund limit per month from $5,000 to $10,000.

The board approved a 9.5 month extended contract for assistant music director Lucas Morgan.

Turner said he met with Omni Energy Partners on Thursday, October 12 for a building audit and it went pretty well. He said Omni noted that the district needs some new windows around the building and needs to replace some doors.

“Our electric services are pretty much tapped out. We need new hot water heaters. The things that they really highlighted in here was if we ever wanted to do any sort of expansion to this main building, we would probably need to bring in an additional electric service. We’ve done a pretty good job of updating our lighting to ballast free LEDs. The windows on the ’76 addition and some areas of the original building are in bad shape and replacement of those windows they say are a priority and the hot water heaters in the back of the cafeteria,” he said.

Turner said they spent a lot of time talking about the lack of a secure entrance into the building. He said in a lot of buildings now and even in a lot of old buildings, schools are renovating to create a secure entrance.

“Where those main doors are now, you could get into those doors into the building, but then we would have some sort of office window, basically a vestibule, and you would have to see someone in the office and speak to that person before they would let you in. It’s a more and more common safety feature, something we don’t have. It’s certainly something to talk about and consider,” he said.

Turner said they spent a lot of time in the locker rooms of Assembly Hall and talked about the amount of wasted space in there and the need for additional locker space.

“Could there be some sort of renovation possible down there to create a third or fourth locker room on that one side? We talked a lot about that,” he said.

Turner said if the roof is the only place the district has to put solar, then Omni does not recommend the district do it.

“It is literally the only place we have to do it, especially considering we have flat roofs and we still have some pretty large areas that are going to have to be replaced in the next five to 10 years,” he said.

Turner said he’ll ask the board to give him some feedback about whether they want Omni to come to the November or December meeting, dive a little deeper and see if the board is interested in pursuing an agreement with Omni to come in and do some of the work.

“There’s no obligation until we sign something saying we’ll bring on Omni Energy Partners,” he said.

Turner reported the district has a maintenance grant coming up. He said a couple things that maintenance director Mike Miller and he had talked about is replacing the windows in the 1976 classroom wing addition. He said Miller wants to replace the two big hot water heaters in the back of the kitchen.

“We probably will get some pricing on continuing to upgrade some rooftop HVAC units. Those are some of the things (Omni) said we needed to look at in this report. Mike is certainly aware of the issues around the building and he and I talk quite a bit about if we get a maintenance grant or if we have a little money here, where do we need to put it to keep the building functioning as well as it can?” he said.

In the treasurer’s report, Turner said the district received a large installment of tax money at the end of September and is at about 70% currently of its projected tax revenue for the year. He said the district has $1 million invested out of the education fund and there is $1.5 million invested out of the working cash fund.

“Payments have started coming in. We got the transportation payments and the first round of categorical payments, so that has helped our transportation budget. We’re starting to get some special ed money, which always helps as well. Some of those other things are starting to come in and the state keeps giving us their money on time. Our EBF (Evidence Based Funding), we get that on the 10th and 20th of every month from August to June. We don’t get any state aid in July, but we get 22 payments every year for that. Those have been coming in on time as well,” he said.

Turner reported that October is Principal Appreciation Month. Begando wasn’t in attendance at the meeting due to being at the Principals Association Conference.

“A lot of principals miss their October board meeting because the Principals Association Conference is this weekend. It typically falls on a board meeting and it’s Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I want to take a moment to appreciate him and all the work and hours he puts in. NCHS made a really good hire when they brought him in. This is his seventh year and he puts in a ton of hours and a ton of time and has nothing but the best interests of our staff and students at heart. I appreciate everything he does,” he said.

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