This letter is in response to the article published in the Tower Timberjay regarding accusations of improper use of public funds for promotion of a ballot issue.
Minimal research on our collaborative project was done by the writer, therefore some inaccurate information needs to be corrected. Here is the truth about campaign finance laws: they state that school districts are not required to fill out a campaign finance report unless it is promotional in nature. The word promotional is subjective.
Either way, as the law reads, any time a group or committee receives or spends an amount over $750, they have to fill out a campaign finance report. The MN Supreme Court ruled in Abrahamson vs ISD 2142 that if a school district sends out materials that are promotional in nature, they would be subject to this rule as well.
We could argue about our materials being promotional or not forever. However, in the interest of not having that argument, our districts will comply with the law as though we did send out promotional materials. The law states that we have to fill out a campaign finance report within 14 days of any expenditure over $750.
We can tell you that the Committee of Concerned Citizens (the group opposing the referendum) has not filed a campaign finance report as of today and they are out of compliance of the law as a result.
The main issue is the lack of understanding by the writer, as well as the people interviewed, about why the task force arrived at this recommendation. This group has honed in on saving buildings rather than improving education. The task force started looking at the educational program, and studied how the facilities would work with that program. It was determined that our current facilities would not be adequate to accomplish our educational goals.
The topic of remodeling costs only entered the conversation when thinking about the possibility of the vote failing and what the districts would have to do on their own. In Eveleth-Gilbert’s case, they would likely have to close a building and consolidate into one campus. There currently is no one building set up to accommodate all of our students which would involve significant remodeling to become more efficient. In Virginia’s case, there are significant deferred maintenance issues that need to be dealt with. In either case, it has been determined by professionals that these costs will far exceed the proposal currently on the ballot to individual taxpayers.
The TimberJay also misrepresented the State of MN property tax refunds, for which there are two types. The regular property tax refund, which the Timber Jay failed to reference in its article, applies year after year to homeowners and renters and reduces up to 80% of the increase in taxes. Homeowners with an annual household income of less than $113,000 and renters with an annual household income of less than $61,000 are eligible. Residents are required to complete the one page application each year, which was presented at each of the 9 public information meetings in early April. According to Ehlers Public Financial Advisors, most EGV residents they have spoken with are eligible for this refund.
The second type, which is a one time refund, on which the Timber Jay chose to focus, is called a Special Property Tax Refund. District residents whose taxes increase more than 12% or $100 are eligible. Both of these refunds are shown in the general brochure that was distributed to all residents of both school districts in March. The resulting tax impact, as shown in the general brochure for a resident living in a median valued home in Eveleth, Gilbert or Virginia is $3 to $6 per month.
As homeowners in each district, we both understand citizens concerns about rising taxes. The opportunity in front of us for the future of our students education is just too good to pass up.