CRYSTAL FALLS—Township and school officials will have to make some budget decisions this year after the Michigan Tax Commission granted a tax break to the company that owns the natural gas pipeline running through Iron County.
The Forest Park School Board heard about the decision during its March 24 monthly meeting.
Kathy Stankewicz, Forest Park business manager, said she had learned about it from Joan Mussatto, county tax equalization director, earlier in the day.
Mussatto said the Tax Commission decided in December to approve an economic condition factor for Great Lakes Pipeline and ANR Pipeline.
It means “a 60 percent reduction in utility personal property for those two companies.” Great Lakes Pipeline owns the natural gas pipeline that runs through Iron County.
The ruling affects all Iron County townships except Mastodon and Hematite, where the pipeline does not run. The others will lose at least $1 million in taxable value. Crystal Falls Township, which has both the pipeline and a compression station, could lose $7.7 million.
The decision is not retroactive, but it means 60 percent of the pipeline’s personal property will come off the tax rolls starting this year. “Right now,” said Mussatto, “it’s almost a $15 million loss in Iron County.”
Last year, Iron County had total personal property of $493.6 million, so it is a reduction of about 3 percent county-wide.
Mussatto said Forest Park will be hurt a little more than West Iron County because of the compression station. “It’s going to affect everybody—the county, the schools, the local units of government, the libraries. Everybody.”
She said her office is trying to figure out how much that effect will be.
Stankewicz said this will not affect the revenue Forest Park gets from its operational millage (the 18-mill levy). But it will affect FP’s bond payments.
Forest Park is currently paying back three different bonds—last year, 2.95 mills were levied to make the payments. School officials want to know whether that levy will need to be increased to make up for the revenue lost due to the Tax Commission decision.
A quick calculation showed the ruling will cost Forest Park about $23,000, which will have to be made up some other way.
• Forest Park changed its phone number several years ago. Now it is changing again.
The new phone number is 214-4695. It’s a local call for most county residents—those outside the county need to call 906-214-4695. When you call, you get the usual options to reach the elementary, middle/high school or business office.
“It will save us a lot of money by moving to our new number,” Superintendent Becky Waters said.
The district’s old numbers are still working—for now. But after spring break, anyone using those numbers will get a recording, asking you to use the new number.
• Board members congratulated the girls and boys basketball teams for their successes this spring. The girls reached the state finals, and the boys advanced to the regional finals. Senior Lexi Gussert was named top girls player in the entire state.
It made for a crazy, intense March for everybody—the teams, coaches, cheerleaders, administrators, band members, parents and the community. Everyone was congratulated for going the extra mile on behalf of Forest Park.
‘It was a pulling together of this community,” said Board President Jim Nocerini. “Great job to everybody. Very proud school district.”
• Board Member Don Peterson reported on the Log-A-Load program, scheduled for May 6 and 7—Forest Park students take the program May 7; other schools visit the school forest May 6. “We’ve had quite a few interested just from forest industry people in their communities,” Peterson said.
An organizational meeting will be held April 1 for the industry officials and agencies putting it together.
• Principal Lisa Olson spoke about a presentation by the robotics club at the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District’s tech center.
Another topic at the ISD was welding opportunities with Bay West College. “They are looking at it again in regards to sharing our facilities with their school and the school building, having their actual welding program at the Bay.”
Nocerini said Bay West has received a $500,000 state grant to enhance its welding program.
• Olson also reported that Forest Park students recently attended the Business Professionals of America state conference. One student qualified for the national competition. The cost would be $1,500 for the student and advisor to go.
• Student counselor Harold Payne reported on results from last fall’s MEAP testing. Overall, he said, FP students were at or above the state average in 14 areas and below in four. “Our kids are doing pretty good,” he said.
“The things that we have been working on did improve,” said Waters, “and we are very excited about that.” In nine of the 18 categories, she said, “We were at the top of the ISD.”
Payne noted next year Forest Park will be shifting to a new online testing system, which will be held in spring. “The new test is Smarter Balanced and deals with the common core.”
Some classes have been taking practice tests using the new system. “The kids are kind of bewildered by it all,” Payne said. “It’s an entirely different testing system than what we have been accustomed to.”
• On other topics:
--Board Member Jason Gasperich reported on research he did on attic fans to cool the school offices and multi-purpose room and said it is “not a good option.” A heating contractor said an attic fan would be quite a bit more expensive than air conditioning. Gasperich will provide more information on AC units.
--Board Member Lisa Bloomburg said the district got applications for three people for a long-term substitute bus driver position. All three will be used until the end of the school year, and their work will be evaluated.
--Waters said interviews for the head football coaching job will be conducted soon. She said there were three applicants—one local and two from downstate. “We got more applicants for the football coach than the pre-K job,” she said. “They must think it pays well.”
--The board approved revisions to its athletic policy on a 5-2 vote. Most of the discussion centered on an athletic committee that would rule on “gray areas” in the code. One discussion point was whether principals should be allowed to vote—board members said they had no problem with principals voting.
--Board Member Deb Divoky said Forest Park needs to promote its opportunities, including multi-age classes, dual enrollment policy and available AP (advanced placement) classes, especially to parents.
AP classes can be taken in high school, earning credits that can be transferred to college. “We should advertise the opportunities we have here—toot our own horn. Community members need to know that.”
--The Forest Park Education Association has notified the district that it wants to meet with administration. Dates will be arranged.
--The board agreed to post for a part-time speech therapist position for the 2014-15 school year. Waters said she will contact West Iron Superintendent Chris Thomson about sharing the therapist.
--The board approved the first reading of the wellness policy.