Nienow talks school funding, business taxes with NB council

District 32B State Sen. Sean Nienow stopped by the North Branch City Council meeting Monday, and council members asked him about topics of particular interest to the city: school funding and tax impact on businesses.

Sean Nienow
Sean Nienow

Councilmember Joyce Borchardt asked Nienow about the changes in the state school funding formula and the new ability for school boards to levy money from taxpayers without a voter-approved referendum.

Nienow said the Legislature last session created a statewide property-tax levy that has “the tiniest little hint of moving toward some funding equity.”

“It doesn’t really do much in terms of the inequity, for example, between North Branch and Cambridge and Rush City and the suburban schools, but it has that hint of equity,” Nienow said. “If a school board votes to implement a levy, then they will get $300 per child.”

He explained that if school boards choose to vote a levy into place, the tax impact is spread evenly across the state and not focused solely on their individual school districts.

“Because this district is a property-poor district, that means a higher percentage of that will fall onto the Twin Cities,” Nienow said.

Nienow added that the state’s K-12 funding formula is “extraordinarily complex” and the House’s summary document on school funding is more than 50 pages.

Market Value Exclusion

Councilmember Kathy Blomquist told Nienow the state’s decision to nix the Market Value Homestead Credit in favor of the Homestead Market Value Exclusion two years ago is still hurting businesses in North Branch and other areas with a lack of commercial and industrial business.

She then asked him if there were anything in the works in the Legislature to address that concern.

Nienow agreed with Blomquist that the property-tax shift that occurred when the Market Value Exclusion was implemented put an extra burden on businesses, especially in rural and semirural areas.

“The result of that law that was changed a few years ago is that the commercial-industrial property became a larger slice of the pie, if you think of the total property-tax bill as a pie,” Nienow said. “Absolutely, no question, it created pressure on the business and tax base.”

He told Blomquist no bills came through the Senate last session in relation to the exclusion, but said he has open ears on the topic.

“If the council would like to sit down and have some conversations, I’m certainly willing to sit down and talk about what might be a workable proposal,” Nienow said. “I’m sure Rep. (Bob) Barrett would sit down and have those conversations, as well.”

Day with Public Safety

Also during the meeting, North Branch City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad mentioned the ninth annual Day with Public Safety will be Saturday in North Branch.

Registration for the 5K run/walk is 8:30 a.m. at the North Branch Fire Hall; the race starts at 9 a.m.

Registration for the bike ride is 9:30 a.m. at the Fire Hall; the ride starts at 10 a.m.

Participants in the bike ride will receive a T-shirt if they bring a nonperishable food item to donate.

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