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Nov. 5 election preview: Voters to settle levy; school board, city council seats to be filled

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South Washington County voters on Tuesday will set the stage for School District 833 funding decisions in the next couple of years — and help decide who will have a part in those budget actions.

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Five of seven South Washington County School Board seats are up for grabs among 17 candidates who will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. Voters also will weigh in on a three-question referendum that, if approved, will raise property taxes to put new money into school staffing and improvements as well as to buy land for new school buildings.

And in St. Paul Park, voters will fill two seats on the City Council.

Here is a rundown of what’s on the ballot:

School referendum

There are three referendum questions on the ballot.

Approval of Question 1 would renew two existing operating levies and would not increase property taxes. The two levies will generate $4.6 million a year for 10 years.

Question 2 would raise property taxes to provide an additional $6.9 million annually, or $337 per pupil, for a decade beginning next fall. School officials say the increase would be funneled into four areas: additional licensed staff, equaling about one position per school building; safety and security improvements; technology infrastructure upgrades; and reserve funds that have been tapped in recent years to reduce programming and staff reductions.

It is contingent on Question 1; if that doesn’t pass, neither can Question 2.

Question 3 is a bond measure seeking $8 million from property taxpayers to be used to purchase land for a new elementary school and a middle school. Three of four middle schools are nearing capacity, along with at least three elementary schools, and development projections in Woodbury and Cottage Grove point to district enrollment increases.

If Question 3 passes, district officials tentatively plan to go back to the voters in 2015 to seek funding for school building construction. If Question 3 doesn’t pass this year, Superintendent Keith Jacobus said the district likely would ask voters for funding for land acquisition and building construction in 2015.

Here are some examples of the annual residential property tax increases if all three referendum questions passed. (They take into account legislative changes that reduced property taxes.)

-- $35 on $125,000

-- $50 on $175,000

-- $72 on $250,000

-- $87 on $300,000

-- $116 on $400,000

School Board, City Council elections

Three people will be on the ballot for a two-year seat: Laurie Johnson, an incumbent and Woodbury resident; Susan Richardson, of Woodbury; and David Firkus, a Woodbury resident who has not responded to Bulletin inquiries for election coverage.

The two-year post will fill out a seat won by Leslee Boyd in 2011 and held for 2013 by Katy McElwee-Stevens after Boyd stepped down to move out of the district.

McElwee-Stevens, of Newport, is among 14 candidates seeking four four-year seats. The other candidates are: incumbent Tracy Brunnette, Cottage Grove; Michael Edman, Cottage Grove; Raj Gandhi, Woodbury; John Griffin Jr., Woodbury; Fred Hess, Woodbury; Leilani Holmstadt, Cottage Grove; David Kemper, Woodbury; Molly Lutz, Woodbury; Katie Schwartz, St. Paul Park; Mike Thissen, Woodbury; and Sharon Van Leer, Woodbury. Safiyyah Cummings and Wayne Johnson also are on the ballot but said they are no longer actively campaigning.

Board members Jim Gelbmann and Ron Kath are in the middle of their four-year terms.

Two City Council seats are up for grabs in St. Paul Park.

Incumbents Sandi Dingle and Jeff Swenson are seeking re-election to a third term. The two council challengers are Darrin Smith and Nathan Kotfis, both first-time candidates.

Mayor Keith Franke and council members Tim Jones and Jennifer Cheesman are not on the ballot this year.

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Scott Wente
Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
(651) 459-7600
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