After a long period of consultation with HTK Architects, USD 253 Emporia Public Schools has organized a laundry list of what the district’s schools need in the way of improvement.
Such improvements would cost somewhere in the range of $60 — $80 million. During a Wednesday night meeting, the idea of holding a bond election was broached. A bond, if passed, would cause the mill levy to rise, which would lead to a rise in property taxes.
After the board heard from Architect Zach Snethen of HTK, Dustin Avery of Piper Jaffray broke down the district’s options, should it choose to embark on a project to renovate the schools on its list.
He presented district officials with a list — a schedule of what they would need to do in order to have the bond election this fall. Avery’s schedule showed a bond election happening Sept. 5 of this year.
Avery focused heavily on the $75 million, $78 million and $80 million price ranges because he felt those numbers were the most feasible for what the district had been discussing. A $75 million project would increase the mill levy by about 4 mills. A $78 million project would increase it by about 4.5 and an $80 million project would come to an increase of just under 5 mills.
Avery broke down what that would mean for taxpayers.
“I think it’s important as we talk about home values and the impact on homes and businesses and those who own agriculture in the school district — we certainly are very transparent about what that impact means,” he said.
Avery used a $100,000 home as an example. According to Avery, the mill levy increasing by 5 mills would lead to an increase in taxes of roughly $5 per month for the owner of a $100,000 home. An increase in the mill levy by roughly 4 mills would lead to the owner of a $100,000 house paying about $4.30 more in property taxes per month.
Owners of commercial property would see an increase of about $114 per year for the business — less than $10 per month, Avery said.
He said he was still working to get figures together on what a mill levy increase would mean for people who own agricultural land.
Once the plan has been finalized, Avery said, and if it turns out to require a mill levy increase, there will be a spreadsheet provided that property owners of all kinds can access on the district’s website and look at to see what the impact will be for them.
State aid has changed since this discussion first began.
“Interest rates are much improved compared to where they were six months ago,” Avery said.
He also showed the board a chart that compared the mill levy of Emporia’s district to that of other school districts similar to it. It was on the low side.
This is all still hypothetical. Member Susan Brinkman said she intended to do her own research. She was uncertain if the community would welcome the increase in taxes, even if it led to improved schools. She said she appreciated the mill levy comparison Avery had provided, but said she was concerned that many of her constituents would think it akin to “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Brinkman was more concerned about what the city and county were doing than with what other districts were doing in terms of mill levies. She cited possible mill levy increases by other government entities, referring to a large sewer project the city had discussed, which could add up and make the district’s small increase more significant.
“What is the health of my community, fiscally?” she asked.
Brinkman said she wanted to hear more about what community members wanted. She felt she didn’t know enough about the answer to that question to come out in favor of plans for a bond election.
Others, including members Doug Epp, Mallory Koci and Melissa Ogleby were more in favor of the bond election.
Whatever happens, according to Avery, it will need to be done quickly.
The process of deciding which districts are approved for bond elections underwent a change about a week and a half ago, according to Avery. Districts were once held to a July 1 deadline if they wanted to submit an application for a bond election. Now, they can send them in at any time, Avery said. If there’s no cap available at the time a district’s application is submitted, it will receive tentative approval from the Kansas Board of Education and be given priority on July 1 for next year.
Avery said this means the time a district chooses to submit its application is now more important than ever.
“Waiting until June may put you in a position where there may not be enough cap to have a bond election next year,” he said. “That puts you at the mercy of waiting for somebody to fail or waiting another year — another year to submit an application on July 1.”
There are still several board meetings before the district would be expected to make its decision.
There is still a lot of discussion to be done before the bond election is decided upon. Member Mike Crouch asked Superintendent Kevin Case and the team to research the subject and come to the next meeting with more solid numbers and recommendations with the goal of passing a resolution — or not — by the second week of May at the latest.
The discussion will continue at the board’s next meeting at 7 p.m. April 24 at the Mary Herbert Education Center.