SMITHVILLE — Voters in the Smithville School District will decide the fate of two revenue-related questions on the Aug. 4 ballot.
"I support both of the issues that will be on the August ballot," Board of Education President Denney Fales said. "The main reason that I support both of these issues is because they are both good for the kids of this district. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I attended several planning meetings to discuss the district's 10 year master building plan. These were attended by community members, business leaders, district and building administrators, coaches and board members."
The first question asks voters to extend the current debt service portion of the district’s tax levy and grant permission for the district to borrow $14.1 million in a general obligation bond “for the purpose of constructing, improving, renovating, furnishing and equipping school facilities including construction of six additional classrooms at Eagle Heights Elementary School, a fieldhouse/activity center at the stadium, playground improvements and various mechanical improvements,” according to ballot language.
Voter approval of the ballot question would extend the debt service levy of $1.1535 per $100 of assessed valuation for an additional two years.
These projects are in Phase One of the district’s master facilities plan. Subsequent phases in the three-phase plan are dependent upon completion of Phase One.
According to Gini Fite, the district’s athletic trainer, current facilities have limited space as programs continue to grow. Some of this growth includes the addition of a female wrestling team and weights classes. Last year, more than 500 students took weights classes, which is more than half the high school student population, Fite said.
“If approved, the new facility would allow adequate space for our students to participate in weights classes safely as well as be ADA compliant,” she said. “The additional space would also allow our wrestling teams to all practice in one location versus three. The space will also be able to be utilized by several of our other sports, activities and clubs that have to meet off campus now due to lack of space.”
Smithville School District currently has debt on the books until 2038, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Wayne Krueger said, as a debt service levy was passed in 2016 for a lease purchase. That debt currently has a sunset of 23 years, or until it is paid off, whichever is first, Krueger explained. If the August question fails with a majority of “no” votes, taxpayers could potentially see their tax bill decrease after 2038. If passed, the levy’s sunset would change from 2038 to 2040.
Superintendent Todd Schuetz said when the district asked for the original levy to build Eagle Heights Elementary School, leaders told voters the building would need additional space in the near future. This ballot issue would address those needs, he said.
If the ballot issue fails, Krueger said, the district will likely ask voters again on a future ballot.
The second ballot question may come off a little confusing, Krueger said. Ultimately, it would move some annual revenues earmarked in a restricted fund for debt payments to a nonrestricted fund to help pay for immediate needs exacerbated by “recent cuts in the state allocations because of the global pandemic,” states a district release. “In the future, the funds would be used to implement the current strategic plan.”
The ballot language reads, “Shall the Board of Education of Smithville R-II School District be authorized to increase the district’s operating property tax levy by $0.10 per $100 of assessed valuation for the purpose of paying general operating expenses of the district?”
If approved, the adjusted operating tax levy of the district would increase from $3.9465 to $4.0465 per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property. In turn, if the question is approved, the district plans to make a corresponding reduction to its debt service levy of $0.10 per $100 of assessed valuation, resulting in the overall district’s adjusted property tax levy remaining unchanged at $5.10 per $100 of assessed valuation, states a district release.
Currently, funds generated by the debt service levy exceed the current amount needed to make debt service payments, Krueger said. Moving the $.10 to the operating fund will free up those dollars to be spent on things other than current earmarked debt. While the amount currently generated by the debt service levy exceeds the amount needed to repay current obligations, an extension of the levy amount under ballot question No. 1, district leaders say, is needed to create the bonding capacity to borrow the $14.1 million for facility updates.
“We estimate, based on our current assessed valuation, local tax and all that ... (the transfer) will generate $250,000 annually (for operation costs), which, given light of the governor’s withholdings, that will be huge for the Smithville School District,” said Krueger. “Right now we, with the recent withholdings, like all districts really, have an unplanned surprise due to the COVID situation.”
If the ballot issue is not passed, Krueger said the district may ask voters again on a future ballot.