Williston has the second-lowest lowest property tax rate of any city in the state, and even if voters approve two measures to fund schools, it would still be below all but three of them, according to calculations from Williston Public School District No. 1.
The current consolidated property tax rate for Williston residents is $899.91 per $100,000 of assessed value, based on information from the North Dakota League of Cities. The only city with a lower rate is Watford City, with $706.90. If voters approve a $60 million bond and increasing District 1’s building fund levy from 10 to 20 mills on Jan. 8, the rate would be $1,113.98. The only cities with a lower rate are Watford City, Bismarck and Dickinson.
The $60 million bond and the new revenue from the building fund would be used to build two new elementary schools, each with a capacity of 600 students, build an addition to Williston High School to accomodate 400 more students and make security and accessibility improvements at the district’s existing elementary schools, all of which were built between the 1950s and the 1980s.
“We don’t want to minimize the cost,” school board President Joanna Baltes said at a recent public meeting about the bond. “We also want to focus on what people are getting for that.”
The new elementary schools would essentially double the space the district has for younger students, and it would allow the district to move fifth-graders from Bakken Elementary, where all fifth and sixth-graders are, back to individual schools. That would expand the space available at Williston Middle School, which is well over capacity, since it shares a site with Bakken Elementary.
That would allow the district to delay the need for a new middle school until 2024 or 2025.
For a $250,000 home, the total cost increase would be $44.60 per month.
Baltes pointed out that although property owners get bills directly from the county, they aren’t the only ones who end up paying property tax. People who live in apartments or who rent homes get the cost passed on to them in rent.
“It really is spread out among all residential dwellers,” she said.
Moving quickly is a priority for the board, because schools are over capacity, and growth isn’t likely to slow down. District 1 added the second-largest number of students in the state between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, according to the Department of Public Instruction.
Having the vote in early January will allow the district to break ground in the spring if voters approve the plan. If they don’t, that will delay the opening of any new school.
“If we miss this window, we’re going to be a year behind,” Baltes said.
Board members have already started talking with state legislators about changing how schools are paid for in the state, but there’s no guarantee that will pass. And even if it does, the change wouldn’t take effect until the middle of the year at the earliest.
Thomas Kalil, board vice president, said the district needs to take action now to make sure things get fixed.
“We are the only people we can guarantee can solve this problem,” he said.