Florence seeks $1.25M for schools

District residents to vote Nov. 7 on new three-year operating referendum

FLORENCE, Wis. — The Florence School District will ask voters Nov. 7 to approve a new $1.25 million annual operating referendum as per-pupil state aid continues to dwindle.

This translates to a .53 millage rate, or 53 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.

The last operating referendum approved in 2014 for $900,000 annually will end with this school year, Superintendent Ben Niehaus told the Florence County Board on Tuesday.

Although voters passed two school building referendums totaling $14.5 million last year, none of that money can be used for school operations, Niehaus explained.

With student enrollment decreasing — from 532 students 10 years ago to 383 this year — and per-pupil state aid at $855 this year, Niehaus said the district looks to close the revenue-expenditure gap.

If the referendum is approved, Florence County taxpayers would pay a total school millage rate of up to 9.65, or $9.65 per $1,000 of taxable value, starting in 2018.

However, Niehaus noted the school board has in the past levied less than what voters approved, depending on expenses.

At the 9.65 rate, Niehaus said the Florence School District still would be below the state average of 9.96 and other local schools such as Laona at 14.82, Goodman-Armstrong Creek at 14.71 and Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine at 13.68, but above Phelps at 7.74 and Wabeno at 6.85.

Niehaus also plans to present referendum information at upcoming meetings in Aurora and Tipler, and through the mail to Florence County residents.

In other business, the county board:

— Agreed to work with the law firms of von Briesen & Roper, Crueger Dickinson, and Simmons Hanly Conroy in relation to legal claims against opioid manufacturers.

Counties throughout the state and nation have filed or plan to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to claim costs of addressing, combating and dealing with the opioid epidemic, Board Chairwoman Jeanette Bomberg said.

Florence County won’t have to pay the law firms any money unless a cash settlement is reached, she explained.

It’s a similar situation to money paid out from tobacco companies, Bomberg noted, but that funding only went to the states and not counties. If counties get involved now, they might be able to collect from any future settlement, she said.

— Heard the next board meeting will be one week early on Nov. 14 at the Florence County Courthouse.