County: Grand Forks schools can levy tax for buildings

Note: For the time being I am also covering county government and happenings so you’ll see some of that mixed in with city stories. 

Despite concerns voiced by a former Grand Forks School Board member, the Grand Forks County Commission couldn’t find a reason not to proceed with certifying the school district’s 2013-2014 budget.

Earlier this month, the commission asked the board to prove it has the authority to levy more than 10 mills for its building fund after resident C.T. Marhula told commissioners he couldn’t find proof of the board’s authority in state law.

The board had approved a 13-mill building fund levy in September.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, county staff and commission members told Marhula the matter was out of their hands.

“Your quarrel is with the School Board,” said States Attorney Peter Welte. “I don’t see anything here that is a smoking gun that proves that acted outside of their authority.”

District response

Following the request for proof of authority from the school district, its attorney responded in a letter addressed to County Auditor Debbie Nelson.

In the letter, dated Oct. 8, attorney Richard Olson (Olson’s response to Grand Forks County) said the district traces its authority back to a 1961 special election that granted it the status of an unlimited mill-levy district. That authority was approved by 63 percent of voters.

The matter was put to vote again in 1969, with the district asking voters if its unlimited authority should continue. It was again granted authority, this time by 72 percent of voters.

The language of the election material doesn’t make it clear if the building fund was included in that measure, according to Marhula.

Olson also pointed out that North Dakota statute does grant school districts the ability to levy up to 20 mills as long as they are authorized to do so by 60 percent of residents voting in a regular or special election.

In an undated letter sent to Nelson in response to Olson (Marhula’s response to Olson), Marhula said the district’s interpretation of this legislation has been inconsistent, noting a 1992 vote on improvements to Red River High School and South Middle School only received 57 percent approval from voters.

Awaiting answer

In the end, he didn’t consider Olson’s response an answer to his question.

“I don’t know the answer to the question,” Marhula said. “I was disappointed when they couldn’t come back with one.”

Though Marhula didn’t think his question was answered, Welte said he saw no reason to stop the county’s certification of the school district budget.

Without evidence of wrong doing or a civil suit being filed against the district, the budget will be certified by Nelson.

In the meantime, Welte said Marhula should wait for a response from the school district as there is nothing the commission can do at this point.

One thought on “County: Grand Forks schools can levy tax for buildings

  1. If county and city members of the various councils, committees, and boards spent their own money the way the spent that of the taxpayers, they’d all be broke. But, lamentably, their mindset is that they are elected or appointed to spend. The Alerus, Arnold Palmer golf course, jail, tax abatements…and now a $13 million+ school which isn’t needed, but the southend people had to be placated.

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