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Mount Vernon continues opt-out

The Mount Vernon School District is renewing its $200,000-a-year opt-out.

The opt-out will be for four years, starting with 2013, payable in 2014, and will go through taxes payable in 2017.

"Without it, it would make things very, very difficult," said Mount Vernon School District Superintendent Patrick Mikkonen.

Opt-outs allow local governments to raise property taxes above state imposed limits.

Mikkonen said the district has previously asked for the full amount the opt-out allows for from taxpayers, and said that if the opt-out were to be discontinued, staff and programs would be cut.

The renewal was approved by the school board during its usual meeting July 11. The meeting also served as a public information meeting on the opt-out. Mikkonen said the district sent out information packets and fliers, but no members of the public attended the meeting.

The Mount Vernon opt-out has been in place ever since it won voters' approval in 2004. The opt-out was quietly renewed without an election in 2009, when another public meeting was held with zero attendance.

Mikkonen said no one has called or gone into the district's office in opposition of the opt-out, and he hasn't heard of anyone attempting to circulate a petition to refer the renewal to a public vote.

The 2004 opt-out was for $175,000 for four years. The 2009 opt-out increased the original to $200,000 for three years.

Mikkonen said the district is taking advantage of a law allowing the district to transfer general fund costs, such as fuel and transportation, into capital outlay funds. Reserve dollars will be used to cover a budget deficit.

"It relieves a little bit of pressure on our general fund," Mikkonen said. "We try to make a balance."

In 2012, 67 of South Dakota's 153 school districts had opt-outs.

The opt-out will be officially renewed Aug. 7 unless a petition is filed by that date to force an election. A petition would need signatures from 5 percent of the district's registered voters.