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Blair Oaks' school board OKs tax increase

Blair Oaks' school board OKs tax increase

August 15th, 2018 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Blair Oaks High School in Wardsville

Photo by Phillip Sitter /News Tribune.

Residents who live within the taxing authority of the Blair Oaks R-2 school district will see their taxes increase at the end of this year, given that the district's Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to move one step closer toward the construction of a new high school.

"I wanted everyone to be unified," board President Peggy Luebbert said after the board meeting Tuesday when a roll call vote increased the district's debt service levy by 30 cents, from $0.91 to $1.21.

"I'm excited we passed this," Luebbert said. The impact of her gavel on a hardback copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" made it official after the vote that the district's total tax levy is now $3.96 per $100 of assessed valuation.

That means that come tax assessment time at the end of the year, home owners who live within the district's area of taxation and who have a $200,000 market value house will see their taxes increase by $114 a year because of the 30-cent levy increase.

The Blair Oaks district includes places like Wardsville, Taos and St. Thomas.

The formula for calculating taxes on real estate or personal property is the appraised value, multiplied by the assessor's rate, divided by 100, and then multiplied by the tax levy rate.

The board voted to increase the district's debt service levy without voter approval in order to save money in interest payments on the cost of a new high school — savings of $52,000, compared to savings of $16,000 if voters had raised the levy by the same 30-cent amount in April 2019.

A higher debt service levy sooner also allows the district to ask voters to approve a bond issue to construct a new high school with a bonding capacity that will be a couple of hundred thousand dollars larger.

Whether that no-tax increase bond issue to build a new high school is a question on the April 2019 ballot still won't be officially decided until January, when the ballot is certified.

"It will be the next step," Luebbert said.

The district previously hosted two public meetings to gauge the community's interest in proposals to fund the construction of a new high school.

The overwhelming majority of people at both meetings — approximately 100 people in total — indicated their support for the board to raise the district's debt service levy Tuesday, without their direct approval.

Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said the district now has months more of opportunities to engage the community on their input in the design of a new high school, compared to previous bond issue questions such as the one that was passed to build Blair Oaks Middle School more than a decade ago.

Board member Nicki Russell said the board will probably talk about the prospect of a new high school any time they have the opportunity, and Luebbert anticipated further informational meetings.

The district's tax levy had not increased since the middle school's construction.

Jones said the district currently has four mobile classroom units, and he viewed the purchase of each as essentially buying a year's worth of expanded bonding capacity.

Even with the tax increase the board approved Tuesday, the district's limited bonding capacity means a new high school would have to be constructed in two phases, with the first phase costing an anticipated $14 million. The second phase is expected to cost up to $4.75 million.

A new high school for ninth through 12th grades would be approximately 114,000 square feet and include a 600-seat auditorium and 2,000-seat gym. The school would be located across the street to the east of the current Blair Oaks Middle School.

If the first phase of the new school opened in August 2021 and then the second phase was completed by August 2025, then the current elementary school would host kindergarten through second grade, the current Blair Oaks Middle School building would house third through fifth grade, and the current Blair Oaks High School would become a sixth- through eighth-grade building — with room to grow in all four buildings.

Jones said building a new high school provides "solutions at every single building" for space needs. He added that too many times the district has not addressed fine arts' need for an auditorium, which could also be used for other events.

He estimated there could be 465 students in the new high school after the first phase is completed.

Until voters actually approve a bond issue for a new high school and thereby make spending money on blueprints or renderings feasible, Jones said discussions about the building's design will involve asking faculty and staff what their needs would be, along with taking tours of other high schools.

Jones added even the rough floor plan the district's been working with for months is not final in terms of where specific classrooms may be — such as if there are six or fewer classrooms on the planned gym's mezzanine level. Nothing would be final until the district gets a cost per square foot estimate.

Jones anticipated a "conservative, no frills design" for a new high school. He added another future consideration will be an operating levy increase — and when to ask for it — to pay for running the new school building.