DCSC patrons are headed for special election
A relatively new Indiana law paved the way for school district property taxpayers to vote on whether or not to sponsor multi-million dollar building projects. The measure was needed if project costs were expected to exceed property tax caps imposed by the state.
Across Indiana roughly six communities have participated in the referendum process and Clinton County will follow suit Feb. 2. Soon the Delphi Community School Corporation will be added to the list of school districts to put a building project out for a public vote.
DCSC school board members approved a $13 million construction project in November. Superintendent Ralph Walker said Tuesday the total project cost for principle and interest could reach $21,760,000, "at the absolute most," from the $13 million building cost. He said school board members understood, when the project was approved, the capital projects fund budget would not tolerate the annual payment for the maximum cost. He said they understood the project would have to be put before the voters to decide if they were willing to pay more in property taxes for needed school buildings' improvements.
According to Indiana Department of Local Government Finance Director of Communications Mary Jane Michalak, the purpose of the referendum process is to allow school patrons to decide if they are willing to pay for a tax increase above tax caps. She explained if more people vote in favor of the project than against it, their property taxes would increase. The purpose of the vote would be to circumvent the property tax cap.
To initiate the process petitioners were required to submit at least 100 verified names of DCSC patrons who supported a deciding vote. Carroll County Clerk Nancy Mattox said, of the 142 signatures submitted, 129 were qualified. Although the Indiana State Board of Accounts prescribed form was not filled out correctly by every signer, SBOA representative Tammy White explained that IC 6-1.1-20- 11 provides "…a reasonable doubt must be resolved in favor of the validity of the signature…"
According to Carroll County Election Board Chair Sam Deiwert, there would be no general election this year. Therefore, there will be a special referendum vote in the spring. Carroll County taxpayers will bear the cost of hosting the process, although only school district patrons will be allowed to vote. Deiwert said he did not know how many polling places would be needed, however a consolidation of locations was under consideration. Deiwert added the cost of the special referendum vote could be as much as $10,000 to $15,000.
Walker concurred with Deiwert's cost estimate. He said the school corporation would likely reimburse the county for the expense if the referendum vote is in favor of the project.
Walker said the school corporation is expected to lose approximately $225,000 in 2009 revenue due to property tax reform and $500,000 in 2010. He said taxpayers would pay roughly $4 million less in property taxes because of the reform. He explained although caps on property taxes would be exceeded, school board members were dedicated to a .54 tax rate ceiling, as promised when they approved the building project. Walker said the current tax rate is .46 per $100 of assessed valuation.
"I wholeheartedly support this process," he said. "This takes the pressure off the school board to make the final decision."
"If someone signed the petition, they can vote either in favor or against the project," he continued. "Those signing the petitions just wanted to see a vote cast about this."
According to IC 6-1.1-20- 3.6(c) "The following question shall be submitted to the voters at the election conducted under this section: "Shall ________ (insert the name of the political subdivision) issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance ___________ (insert the description of the controlled project)?" (d) The county auditor shall certify the public question described in subsection (c) under IC 3-10-9-3 to the county election board of each county in which the political subdivision is located. After the public question is certified, the public question shall be placed on the ballot… if a primary election, general election, or municipal election will not be held in the six (6) month period after the county auditor certifies the public question, the public question shall be placed on the ballot at a special election to be held: (1) not earlier than ninety (90) days; and (2) not later than one hundred twenty (120) days; after the public question is certified if the fiscal body of the political subdivision that wishes to issue the bonds or enter into the lease requests the public question to be voted on in a special election."