KNOX - The Keystone School Board May 11 expanded and extended real estate tax payment options as district residents deal with the financial fall-out of the COVID-19 emergency.

The actions came as the board gave its tentative approval to a $16,590,484 budget for the 2020-21 school year.

The board agreed to hold the real estate tax level at 51.587 mills.

That means property-owners in the district will be taxed $51.59 cents for each $1,000 of assessed property value. That tax rate has not been raised for several years.

The school board and district administrators were likely to hold the tax rate at 51.587 mills even before the COVID-19 emergency hit and the board and administrators agreed even with the financial burdens the district faces now it did not warrant raising taxes when many families are struggling with closed businesses and employment lay-offs.

The board also agreed to allow property owners to spread their payment out over six installments rather than the usual three installments in another effort to help ease the tax burden.

That move comes with a $3,000 estimated cost, though, as it means municipal tax collectors will need to be paid for the extra billing and processing created by the extra payments.

Finally, the board agreed to extend the various payment periods.

Real estate taxes can be paid at the discount price until the end of August (unchanged); at "face" value until the end of November (a one month extension); and with penalty until the end of December.

Property taxes not paid by the end of December are turned over to the tax collections office.

The extension will cost the district an estimated $8,000 in lost interest and related costs.

There is an important caveat in the payment extension situation, though.

The state legislature is reportedly considering a bill that would force all taxing entities to extend the "face" period until the end of the year.

For Keystone School District, that change could create a large financial hit.

District business manager Vern Lauffer told board members a state-mandated extension of the "face" period could cost the district upwards of $28,000 in cash flow.

That in turn, would force the district to cash in certificates of deposit currently earning 3 percent interest.

Lauffer said there is no way the district would find that kind of interest rate to re-invest the money that would come in later on the extended face period.

"That would affect us for several year," Lauffer told the board.

Lauffer said CD rates are around 1 percent and based on a $1 million CD, the lower interest rates could cost the district $20,000 per year in lost earnings.