SD2 board votes to place 5 levies on May ballot

2 federal bonds will also appear on the ballot
2012-03-19T21:56:00Z 2012-03-20T12:00:13Z SD2 board votes to place 5 levies on May ballotBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

Trustees for Billings School District 2 voted Monday night to place five levies on the May 8 ballot, arguing that voters should be given the option to approve or reject funding for SD2.

The five levies are in addition to two federal bonds that will also appear on the ballot.

"I think it's time for the citizens of Billings to decide if they're going to support their schools," said trustee Lindy Graves.

The board voted unanimously to place on the ballot a technology levy for the district's elementary and middle schools. The majority of the district's computers there are more than 5 years old. A few date to 1999, said Karen Palmer, SD2's technology director.

The board then voted to approve a $880,000 general fund mill levy for the elementary schools and a $150,000 general fund mill levy for the high schools.

Support there wasn't so unanimous.

"I don't think we should do this," Connie Wardell told fellow trustees. "You can only get so much from the public. If we put them all on, we'll lose them all."

But her fellow trustees argued that under the state's school funding model, communities are expected to pass mill levies every year to complete their state funding. It's the district's job to give voters the chance to approve or reject a levy.

"I think Connie makes a good point, but I think we need to give the community an option to decide," trustee Kathy Aragon said.

The board was divided on whether to go after the building reserve levies for the elementary and high schools. Aragon suggested the board place a building reserve levy on the ballot once the board had crafted and approved a districtwide facilities master plan.

Graves disagreed, saying that the schools were already in desperate need of maintenance. SD2 has $125 million worth of deferred maintenance.

SD2 last got voter approval for a building reserve fund in 2001. With the exception of Great Falls Public Schools, SD2 is the only AA district in the state without a building reserve levy.

The trutsees representing the elementary school district voted 4-3 to place the building reserve levy on the ballot. Aragon, Wardell and Greta Besch Moen voted against it.

All nine trustees voted 7-2 to place the high school building reserve levy on the ballot. Aragon and Wardell voted against it.

Each is a five-year $1 million levy.

Last month, trustees voted to go after $14 million in federal bonds — similar to the ones voters approved two years ago, which brought the district $12 million.

They're known as Qualified Zone Academy Bonds and are reserved for maintenance and facilities projects.

The bonds are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and are appealing because the federal government pays the interest on the bonds. The district received the $12 million in 2010, but it cost Billings taxpayers $5.8 million.

Available to the district this year is $5.8 million in additional Qualified Zone Academy Bonds and $8.3 million in Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds.

Similar to the 2010 bonds, should voters approve the $5.8 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, taxpayers would pay $2.9 million. The difference will be paid by the federal government.

The $8.3 million in Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds will cost taxpayers $5.7 million.

Should both sets of bonds pass with voters, property owners with a $200,000 home would pay $4.29 a year in taxes.

Should the five levies and 2 bonds pass with voters, property owners with a $200,000 home would pay a total of $77 a year.

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