Stenehjem talks school budgets

School districts are stuck with any budgeting mistakes they make and fail to correct before Oct. 10 of each year, according to an opinion issued July 11 by State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Stenehjem said school districts can’t amend their budgets when a statutory deadline prohibits it, even if they are making the amendment because of a clerical or human error.

The opinion was written in response to a request made by McLean County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson, who asked whether a county auditor can correct errors to avoid “absurd or illogical human results.” Erickson had also asked whether there’s a difference between a statutorily prohibited increase in a property tax levy after Oct. 10, and a correction of a property tax levy that was mistakenly conveyed to the county auditor wherein an auditor could determine that a mistake occurred by reviewing the school board minutes or other evidence.

Stenehjem said there’s no difference.

“It is my opinion the law and precedent are clear that a school district’s property tax levy may not be amended after the October tenth deadline found in N.D.C.C. 57-15-31.1 regardless of whether the previous levy was made in error,” wrote Stenehjem.

A school district can amend its tax levy and budget for the current fiscal year on or before Oct. 10, but the certification must be filed with the county auditor within the time limitations under the statute, ruled Stenehjem.

Two previous Legislatures had enacted legislation allowing for political subdivisions to correct mistakes in the amount of tax levied after the Oct. 10 deadline, wrote Stenehjem, but those statutory exceptions were allowed to expire.

“If lawmakers intended to authorize correction of human error on tax levies in perpetuity, these exceptions would remain in law,” wrote Stenehjem.