RACINE — In its first annual budget set after the approval of a $1 billion referendum, Racine Unified is keeping its promise of a flat tax rate.
The School Board on Wednesday approved the final $361.32 million 2020-21 budget and the district’s tax rate at $9.49 per $1,000 of equalized property value. That’s the same tax rate as last year.
However, because property values have increased in the past year, the district expects to collect a total tax levy of around $100.26 million. a 7.3% increase over the previous year.
That means anyone who has had a property assessment increase over the last year will end up paying more. But Unified is still able to maintain its promise to keep the rate flat.
Unified’s total 2020-21 budget is $23.3 million larger than last year, which Chief Operating Officer Marc Duff partially attributed to $12 million in debt refinancing that has to be counted as spending.
Per a policy set prior to voter approval on April 7 of the district’s collection of $1 billion over the next 30 years, the School Board approved the tax rate related to referendums separately than the overall tax rate.
The board’s tax rate control policy caps levies related to referendums, building construction and maintenance at $2.31. This year the district expects to collect around $7.9 million through the referendum approved in April through a tax rate of $0.744. The administration has previously said its intention is to continue increasing the tax rate approved through the April 2020 referendum to replace other levies as they drop off, while keeping the rate under $2.31 per $1,000 in assessed valuation.
The results of a recount of the referendum vote were challenged and upheld in Racine County Circuit Court. That decision is currently being challenged in Wisconsin Appellate Court.
In the coming year, Racine Unified is set to levy $87.7 million for its general fund, $13.6 million for debt service and $3.9 million for its community service fund.
That’s a $6 million decrease in the community service levy from last year when the district levied $10 million, a large chunk of which went toward construction of the new Aquatic Center set to be built adjacent to Case High School.
The district is planning to spend more than $8 million from the community service fund this year, but the additional funds were carried over from last year due to delays in construction of the Aquatic Center and Horlick Field improvements that were originally scheduled to be either started or completed last fiscal year.
Also out of last year’s community service fund, the district paid for the majority of $1.3 million in construction costs for a community health clinic at Julian Thomas Elementary School, construction of which has already been completed.
The city has future plans to build a standalone clinic just north of Julian Thomas, but the district has no plans to contribute funds to that clinic, according to Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp.
Like most districts across the state, Racine Unified saw a large dip in enrollment this year due to COVID-19. Unified initially expected a decrease in enrollment of 468 students, but its actual decrease was 1,118 students. Unless state law is changed to provide districts for some sort of relief due to enrollment dips fueled by the pandemic, that decrease will continue to impact the district’s budget in years to come, since revenue limits are determined by a 3-year rolling enrollment average.
The state provides a one-year cushion to districts to help them deal with enrollment declines, which helped Racine Unified to the tune of around $3 million this year.
Open enrollment of students out of the district also increased more than expected this year, for a total cost of $13.1 million.
Kenosha Unified, whose board approved its tax rate and levy on Tuesday, will increase its tax rate by $0.35 to $8.94 per $1,000 in assessed valuation for a 9.63% increase in its levy.