An audience consisting of primarily school board members and a handful of school staff approved a proposed levy of $19,434,233 for the 2022-2023 school year at the district’s annual meeting Monday, Sept. 19.
They also approved moving the 2023 annual meeting back a month to Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. That is important because the state of Wisconsin typically does not finalize the amount of general equalization aid the district will receive until Oct. 15.
Waiting to hold the annual meeting until Oct. 23 will allow the district to work with the actual amount in the proposed budget as opposed to having to revise the budget at a meeting 30 days later as will be the case this year.
“Given the Oct. 15 date, the annual meeting presentation would be on the actuals for the 2023-24 school year budget versus preliminary numbers,” Director of Fiscal and Building Operations Kris Brown said.
In his budget recap, Brown highlighted two proposed changes.
The first would increase the Community Service Fund by $355,000 by moving the $150,000 middle school athletics budget into the fund along with additional money to stabilize the fund which has been operating at a deficit for several years.
The Community Service Fund allows the district to support the community outside the required instructional opportunities for students.
The second change would increase the Debt Service Fund levy by $3 million to prepay some of the district’s existing debt.
Brown reasoned that significant property growth means increased property value which generally leads to a decline in the mill rate.
“To try to stabilize that fluctuation in our mill rate we can look at prepaying some of our existing debt which will then allow us room in our levy for potential future growth opportunities like some of the capacity issues we're talking about in some of our buildings,” Brown said.
Brown is projecting a mill rate decrease of 36 cents with the new budget.
Brown went on to explain that of the $1.2 million allocated in the state budget for education, all of it went to tax and property tax relief for Wisconsin residents. That translated into zero dollars in per pupil aid and no revenue limit increase for the 2022-23 budget.
The New Richmond School District is the 12th lowest of 428 Wisconsin school districts in spending per student.
City Administrator Noah Wiedenfeld told board members, a $60,000 design services agreement with ISG approved by the City Council at its Sept. 12 meeting is a significant step forward in the process to build a new library.
The design services agreement will include a further developed floor plan, exterior building elevations, interior/exterior renderings, preliminary interior finishes, preliminary structural framing plan, narratives for HVAC, plumbing, electrical and technology systems and a cost estimate.
“We hope around Thanksgiving time to have all those deliverables … This is kind of the fun part of the project. We really want feedback from the community. Again, what is this building going to look and feel like? What is it going to take to get people to want to spend time in it? … What do people want from the library? What do we want the library to look like and how do you prioritize those things?” Wiedenfeld said.
The city has spent the summer in consultation with its financial adviser, Ehlers, in an effort to better understand not just the initial cost to construct a new facility but also the life-cycle costs to operate a new library including maintenance, staffing, insurance, heating and cooling. They have also been studying different ways to pay for the project and what impact each would have on taxpayers.
“We’ve been looking at the elephant in the room, how do we pay for this? How do we make sure that we are getting a good return on our investment and making sure that we are managing taxpayer dollars wisely,” Wiedenfeld said.
There is currently a request for proposals looking for a business or collaboration between multiple small businesses interested in establishing a retail food or beverage space in the library. Proposals are due by Oct. 7.
The plan moving forward calls for continued efforts to engage the public in the process. Ideas include using parent-teacher conferences and the book fair particularly at the elementary schools and Election Day to reach out to residents for their feedback.
An important part of the engagement effort is educational directed at answering the questions:
Why is a new library needed in New Richmond in 2022?
Who uses the library? Why do people visit the library?
What role do libraries serve in the 21st century?
The timeline calls for completion of the design phase of the project in six to eight weeks.
Wiedenfeld is hopeful the bidding phase of the project can still begin this year. ISG partner, 360 Real Estate Solutions, is hoping to break ground on the project in 2023.
“The city has now had that property for a number of years. We have to recognize that the district put a lot of faith in us to say we want this to be a library. … We want to make sure that we honor that,” Wiedenfled said.
Community members are encouraged to view the building project page on the library’s website, newrichmondlibrary.org/building in the coming weeks for additional updates, information and opportunities for involvement.