School bond votes highlight lengthy ballots

RBC — It’s countdown to election time for the Meeker and Rangely school districts.
Both districts will have bond initiatives on Tuesday’s general election ballot. And both are confident they have made their case to voters.
“I’m still hearing positive support,” said Rangely Superintendent Dwayne New-man. “I have heard comments from a small number of voters who oppose any kind of tax increase. But the vast majority seem to be very supportive. The people who are opposed don’t seem to be actively working against the bond issue; they simply don’t want any additional taxes.”
Rangely’s school district has a $15 million bond issue initiative on the ballot for remodeling all three schools as well as making improvements to the bus barn and buying three used replacement buses.
Meeker’s $24 million school bond initiative includes $17.4 million for a new elementary school, with the balance going toward improvements at the middle school and high school.
“It goes without saying that the board, school district and its campaign committee feel that passing ballot initiatives 3A and 3B on Nov. 4 is the right thing to do,” said Mary Strang, president of the Meeker School Board. “However, none of us take the passage of these measures for granted and, therefore, we continue to extend our message to the voters. We’re guardedly optimistic, but enthusiastically endorse the proposed projects because the need is so definitive. Building a new elementary school and making critical improvements/repairs in the middle and high schools is the way to provide a safe, healthy and positive learning environment for all our kids.”
Representatives from both school districts have been making the rounds presenting their case wherever they can.
“I’ve spoken to board and community groups, asked everyone from my barber to the convenience store clerk about their position on the bond and spent hours on the phone and sending e-mails at night,” Newman said. “The district needs this money badly and we have a good, solid plan to implement, if we get voter approval.
“For me, the only large variable (which we cannot control) is the national economy and how its fluctuations will affect voters.”
As voters prepare to go to the polls, it’s important they understand the wording of the ballot questions was mandated by law, not of the district’s choosing, Strang said.
“For instance, ballot issue 3A reads, ‘Shall Rio Blanco (Meeker) RE-1 School District taxes be increased by $404,670 …’ This tax is not a new tax and has been in effect for nine years,” Strang said. “The ballot question asks the voters to permanently extend the existing mill levy override. The amount of the tax will stay constant and will be used to purchase textbooks, and materials; hire and retain quality staff; maintain small class size; and balance the school budget without using reserves. If this permanent extension of our mill override is granted by the voters, the Meeker School District will still have the lowest override of any of its surrounding districts.”
Strang also explained the school district’s position on the wording of ballot question 3B.
“3B reads, ‘Shall Rio Blanco (Meeker) RE-1 School District debt be increased $24,000,000, with a repayment cost of up to $45,000,000, and shall district taxes be increased up to $2,250,000 annually for the purposes of …’ This, again is the mandated wording. It reflects the maximum cost of principal plus interest during the debt retirement of the 20-year bond. The bonds could bear a lower interest rate than the maximum allowable figure of 6.5 percent. Should this be the case, obviously, the total repayment cost will be lower. The voters can be assured the debt figure requested by ballot issue 3B is $24 million and not $45 million. It’s significant that our school district has been debt free for over 20 years. Meeker and Hayden are the only school districts in Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Garfield, Grand and Eagle counties currently without a bond mill levy.”
Newman says the Rangely School District has tried to explain its facility needs and its reasons for the bond initiative. Now it’s up to the voters.
“I think we’ve made a very strong, very logical case to the voters,” Newman said. “It’s about student safety, upgrading old systems to save money, and creating an environment that allows students to access up-to-date technology. The process here started two years ago with the facilities assessment/evaluation. The board took a long careful look at their options and, realistically, the only option that will address the needs is a bond.”