Second forum on Caldwell Co.'s proposed nickel tax draws generally supportive comments; funding for improvements to area tech center a selling point

Times Leader, Princeton, March 29, 2017

Sustainability cautioned in tax forum

Staff Report

A county school board forum regarding a proposed increase in the school district’s property tax to aid in the cost of multiple facility improvements drew support, mixed with caution, from local residents Tuesday.

The forum, held Tuesday evening at the George Coon Public Library, was the second held by the school board to hear comments on a proposed increase of 6 cents per $100 of valuated real estate and personal property on the school tax rate this fall.

The board is expected to formally levy the tax at a special meeting set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 11.

The revenue generated from the tax, termed a “recallable nickel,” would cover debt service payments on bonding required to finance the facility improvements, thereby increasing the school district’s bonding potential by several million dollars.

The state legislature would then have the option of equalizing the tax revenue, further increasing the bonding potential available.

With that bonding option, the district could take advantage of a $1.5 million state grant to aid in the cost of modernizing the Caldwell County Area Technology Center, while having a sufficient bonding reserve to cover other infrastructure needs throughout the district, including anticipated HVAC replacements and other renovations at the primary, middle and elementary schools.

Superintendent Carrell Boyd noted that the district’s current property tax rate, 38.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, is only a tenth of a cent higher than its rate in 1990.

Only three school districts in the state have a lower rate, he added.

“We’re way below the average … we’re not even close.”

With few other revenue options identified, and the likelihood of state equalization, the superintendent reiterated his recommendation for the tax increase.

“My recommendation is fully and wholeheartedly to levy it,” he said.

After Boyd’s presentation, the forum was opened for comments from the crowd of about 25 in attendance.

Jeff Simms, the first to speak, urged the board to give thought to how the tax could be sustained, with funding continuing to dwindle and the possibility of state funds diverted to charter schools on the horizon.

“I can’t make the choice to not support this effort,” he said, noting that the tax was “absolutely needed.”

“The caution that I present to this group, and anybody else, is how can it be made sustainable?”

He lobbied school administrators to keep the technology center’s curriculum relevant for the years ahead, so area industries can find qualified workers from within the community.

Boyd said education officials are regularly pushing for state-level changes to improve support for schools. “The fight is being waged,” he said.

While the district owns the ATC building, its programs are overseen by the state, he noted. At the same time, he said, school officials remain in contact with industry leaders and the state over the direction of the tech center.

“We will try with everything we’ve got to be at the table with what happens going forward,” he said.

Local electrical contractor Wayne Sledge, who was on hand for the board’s first tax forum in Fredonia earlier this month, also voiced his support Tuesday.

“I was 100 percent against it,” he said. “But when I listened to Carrell talk in Fredonia, it changed my mind 100 percent.”

While noting some concerns with some of the tech center’s courses, the center itself must be preserved, he said.

“You’ve got to be able to keep the people here. The industry is looking for it … they’re looking for people here to go out there and work.”

The state grant being offered for the ATC project reinforces its prioritization, he added.

“You’ve got to make that investment in order to get that money,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing. I think they don’t have a choice.”

Once the work is completed, though, the facility must be maintained, he noted.

“It needs to be taken care of,” he said. “You can’t let it sit out there and break down.”

Boyd noted the ATC renovation would likely take place in the summer of 2018 if the tax increase is adopted.

The board also heard from county PVA Ronald Wood and Magistrate Phillip Sisk, who pointed to the role of state and federal government in the funding available to districts.

Community members will also have the opportunity to offer comments on the tax proposal at the April 11 public hearing in the Butler auditorium.

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