Board voices support for tax abatement program

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, April 4, 2017

By Evelyn Seffinga

The Albert Lea School Board expressed support Monday for a tax abatement program for new construction in Albert Lea during a study session.

Superintendent Mike Funk emphasized the potential economic development that the tax program could encourage, stating that it would “incentivize people to move to town and build houses.”

Mike Funk

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Though action could not be taken on the item, the school board’s comments showed unanimous support.

The program, which has been promoted by the Albert Lea City Council and implemented in surrounding cities, would provide tax relief and would temporarily eliminate the city property taxes for the first five years on new construction or improvements to existing structures. This initiative would take place over the course of the next three years and would include new single-family homes, duplexes and multi-family housing with four or less units.

By implementing this temporary reallocation of taxes, the city of Albert Lea hopes to attract new taxpayers, provide more housing to their workforce and allow for more flexibility in local government.

The tax abatement strategy is potentially advantageous to the city because taxes are still collected, just not upfront.

Funk explained the policy: “If we were to abate taxes for five years, (the schools) would be delaying the receiving the full value of the taxes for the five years after the property is developed.”

He acknowledged the long-term potential gain of a growing tax base for the public school system.

Neal Skaar, Albert Lea School Board clerk, simplified the outcome of the program by stating, “(The investors) won’t be gaining but they also won’t be losing over the five years.”

In the sixth year after construction, taxes would be collected on time and in full.

To qualify for the program, candidates must meet certain requirements such as zoning regulation, location restrictions, proper approval, construction deadlines, availability and financial assistance limitations.

The tax abatement program has potential for amendment in its pilot years of existence; once amendment being considered is temporary tax relief for housing projects larger than four units.  

The tax abatement program is set for a formal hearing and vote later this month.

In other action, the board:

Heard updates from Albert Lea High School choral director Diane Heaney. Students and chaperones toured and performed at the iconic Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and a Memphis children’s hospital over spring break with rewarding results. School Board Treasurer Mark Ciota credited the longstanding success of Albert Lea’s music programs to teachers like Heaney.

Examined the state’s most recent fluxes in fiscal policy. Funk outlined his position in response to the governor’s initiatives on pre-kindergarten programs.

“The more we can prepare the kids for kindergarten, the more school-ready they will be, and the more successful they will be when it comes to proficiency testing later on,” Funk said.

Received policy updates from the Minnesota Legislature, including the Individualized Education Programs, the commissioner’s report on dyslexia and the incorporation of e-learning days in which students will be given online instruction in cases of inclement weather. These days will count as regular school days.

Explained the decision to allow rotating representatives of the Albert Lea Education Association to participate in procedures at future board meetings.

“We are here to assist in the best possible construction of an education system,” Skaar said. Skaar and other board members recognized the value ALEA could provide to future discussion on a stronger institution.

About Evelyn Seffinga

Evelyn Seffinga covers education and arts and culture for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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