School district gets positive feedback from public on bond issues

MEEKER — Results of a recent survey of school district voters generally supports seeking a $24 million bond issue and making permanent the $404,000 property tax increase first approved in 1999 and renewed by voters in 2004.
Dan O’Connell, a director of RBC Capital Markets of Denver, and Chris Kearling, Ph.D., of Boulder-based Harstad Strategic Research, gave the Meeker School District RE-1 board members the results of a survey for two potential bond issues.
That poll of 305 registered district voters indicated that about two-thirds favored two bond issues designed to raise money for a variety of school improvement projects, possibly including a new elementary school.
Kearling, vice president of Harstad, told the group by speaker phone that his pollsters received “very good responses” from the district’s registered voters.
“There was an alarming number of people willing to talk.” Pollsters usually have to call eight to 10 people to get responses but registered voters within the district were more than willing to provide answers, Kearling said. There are about 2,500 registered voters within the school district.
The primary issues included a new $24 million bond issue that would end up raising property taxes by about $100 a year on a house valued at $185,000. Some 63 percent of those polled said they’d support the issue, although there were varying degrees of support.
An interesting sidelight, Kearling said, is that voters were statistically no more supportive of a smaller $16 million bond measure than they were of the larger one. O’Connell, who was at the meeting in person, added that was a good sign of support.
Perhaps one of the most surprising statistics to come out of the survey is that a majority of those polled said current property taxes are either just about right or even too low. In fact, 44 percent of voters ages 18-44 said taxes are not too high.
About 60 percent of voters aged 54-59 agreed with that same position, while 55 percent of voters 60 years old and older supported that position.
O’Connell said that indicates a favorable attitude toward the two revenue measures. However, several times throughout the presentation he warned the board that the results of the survey don’t indicate the measures will pass automatically.
Another strong indicator that the measures have the potential to pass is the favorable attitude voters have toward the district. A strong majority of voters says the Meeker schools are headed in the right direction. Of the Republicans polled, 64 percent agreed with that statement. Of non-GOP respondents, 57 percent agreed with that statement.
There is strong support for the school from the energy sector, with 60 percent saying the schools are doing well. This compares with 55 percent of the farm and ranch group, 74 percent of households with children, and 84 percent of school employees.
In general, voters give above average grades to the schools, and parents of students give their children’s schools even higher marks, usually “As” and “Bs.” O’Connell interjected that this result shows the schools are appreciated and that parents and employees (who also gave the schools high marks) should be part of the campaign to pass the ballot issues.
Some 78 percent of those surveyed thought the economy will either stay the same or get even better, Kearling said by phone. And those polled said local taxes are about right or even too low.
Among other survey results is the fact that general approval for the property tax increases went across all sort of lines.
Both RBC and Harstad have worked on bond issues for other Colorado school districts. Based on that experience, O’Connell recommended that if the district moves ahead with the bond issues and they are approved by voters, the district establish a bond fund to help pay off the bonds, including the approximately $4 million in interest, if the economy goes sour.
The oil and gas industry currently pays about 80 percent of local property taxes, either directly or indirectly. Any significant downturn in the industry could disastrously affect the district’s property tax revenue, O’Connell said in an interview after the presentation. The idea behind the bond fund, he said, is to build a cushion.
A second advantage of such a fund is that it actually could help retire the bonds early.
School board members also approved additions to the substitute teacher lists and approved the high school block schedule.