Rochester Sales Tax Extension Approved-School District Levy Fails
Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - Voters have approved an extension of Rochester's half-cent sales tax but have shot down a property tax increase proposed by the Rochester School District.
The Rochester School District technology referendum failed by a very narrow margin of just 318 votes. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State election website, the unofficial results indicate 11,248 voters cast ballots against the plan to raise $10 million per year for 10 years from increased property taxes to fund the school district's technology needs. 10,930 voters supported the plan.
Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel indicated the intent was to use the technology levy to shift $7 million in annual spending on technology away from the school district's general fund, while also increasing technology spending by about $3 million a year. The shift would have provided the school district an additional $7 million in general fund revenues to use for holding down class sizes and other classroom needs.
“First, we thank all voters for seeking information and making an informed decision,” stated Rochester Public School Superintendent Kent Pekel. “We are disappointed that we were unable to unify the community behind the needs of our students with regard to the referendum question.”
A school district news release says the defeat of the technology levy means the Rochester Public Schools will face additional cuts of up to $10 million for the 2024-2025 school year. It goes on to say that school district leaders and Rochester School Board members will now begin evaluating district needs the balance its budget, including making additional budgetary reductions.
The extension of Rochester's sales tax was approved by a fairly healthy margin of more than 1400 votes. Nearly 54% of the voters approved of the sales tax extension, while about 46% voted no. The continuation of the half-penny sales tax, which was originally implemented with voter approval in 1983 to fund the city's flood control project, will be used to collect $205 million in revenue over approximately the next two decades.
"The City has addressed community needs through a sales tax for more than four decades,” said City Administrator Alison Zelms. “This year Rochester voters chose to continue that legacy, allowing us to make continued investments in critical infrastructure and expanding access to opportunity and economic success through new housing and sports investments.”
The City Council has decided to direct $65 million of that amount to develop a new regional recreational and sports center in Rochester. The remainder of the revenues from the sales tax will be directed at maintaining the flood control project, street reconstruction, and economic vitality initiatives involving affordable housing and workforce development.
Within the city of Rochester, the unofficial results show about 19,700 voters cast ballots in the election. That works out to a voter turnout of about 26% of the more than 73,400 voters who had registered before the polls opened Tuesday morning.
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