Sioux County School Board Cuts Special Building Fund Levy In Half To 7-Cents Per Hundred

Kerri Rempp SCSD Public Information Officer

The Sioux County School Board voted Monday to amend its budget and decrease its special building fund levy by seven cents.

The board had originally approved a 75-cent total levy, a 14-cent increase over last year as it continues discussions on the construction of a new elementary school to meet ADA requirements. Property owners have pushed back against the increase, urging the board to find ways to bring the school into compliance at a lower cost.

Bids for the school came in above the estimate in July, and the board directed its architect and contractor to find lower-cost alternatives. They are expected to present options on modulars, steel buildings and brick-and-mortar classroom-only construction at the November meeting.

In the meantime, the board worked with Security First Bank to restructure payments on the $4.65 million in financing the district secured in January at 1.35% interest. That move allowed for the board to consider reducing its building fund levy Monday. The new total levy for both the general and special building funds for the 2022-23 year will be 68 cents. That equates to a tax asking of $3,396,944 for the general fund and $386,869 for the building fund.

The building fund levy will be used to make one of two $375,000 payments on the loan in 2023. The second payment will be made with the proceeds of the loan.

“We are giving back some of the money,” said board member David Howell.

Roughly a dozen landowners continued to press the board Monday to further reduce the cost of the project. Members of the public suggested renovating the current 85-year-old elementary school, an option that was rejected by the board after a feasibility study last year. That project would still cost more than $1 million and not solved all of the problems due to the design of the building.

“It was not the economically smart thing to do with taxpayer dollars as far as I’m concerned,” said board member Syd Meidell.

One member of the public asked about ramps at the elementary school instead of an elevator. Board member Joleen Falkenburg said the incline was too steep according to the study. The current elementary school requires students and staff to use stairs to enter the building and to access all classrooms, the restrooms and gymnasium. Another landowner suggested chair lifts; the hallways, doorways and stairwells are all too narrow for that option, Falkenburg and Howell explained.

Given that the board has decreased its levy for the project, and it projected it needed the higher levy for seven years to pay for the construction, one landowner asked if the taxpayers will be stuck with a higher levy for a longer period of time.

Falkenburg said the board knows that it cannot fund a project based on the bids that were received.

“I think we all recognize that. That’s why we pared down the project,” she said.

The district had approved and bid a design that included classrooms similar in size to the current elementary and a full-sized gymnasium. When they review alternatives in November, it will be strictly classroom space with no gymnasium.

A landowner from southern Sioux County said the school is of no benefit to residents in that region, as they all send their children to Minatare, Mitchell and Morrill and believes the district lines should be redrawn. Board member Judd Skavdahl noted he would like to have someone from the state talk to residents about what redistricting would mean for taxpayers.

Other property owners asked the board to “put the brakes on this deal” to find a cheaper way to “just get by,” and another urged the board to decrease the levy even more.

Falkenburg said she will look at every option and do her best to make it affordable, but that the district has to do something to meet ADA, and she doesn’t want to go back to square one and have to refinance at a higher interest rate.  

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