There’s an election going on in Billings right now. Ballots were mailed last month asking voters to decide on issuing bonds for $12 million in repairs to local public schools.
As of this week, 25,095 ballots had been voted and returned to the Yellowstone County Elections Office, according to Brett Rutherford, interim administrator. That voter “turnout” so far is well below the 35,378 ballots cast in the May school election when more than 53 percent of registered voters participated.
Fortunately, there’s still time to vote. Ballots must be returned to the Elections Office on the first floor of the County Courthouse no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 7). If you mail the ballot back, remember to put a regular 44-cent letter stamp on it. Ballots also may be dropped off today or Tuesday at the Elections Office. On Tuesday, ballot drop boxes will be available at Bench Elementary in the Heights, at Riverside Middle School and at Faith Evangelical Church.
The two ballot questions ($4.42 million for K-8 bonds and $7.58 million for high school bonds) ask voters for permission to take advantage of a special federal financing program. The federal government will pay all of the interest expense on the bonds. The school district will be responsible for paying back the $12 million principal. But that amount will be reduced by interest the district earns on tax money deposited in the bond repayment fund. The proposed 15-year bonds would be paid off in a single payment at the end of the 15-year term. Interest accumulated over the 15 years would be used to defray local taxpayers’ costs. In short, the bond proposals offer Billings Public Schools $12 million in much needed repair on old buildings for less than $12 million in cost to local taxpayers.
How would the bond proceeds be used?
• New fire alarms at Broadwater, Burlington, Miles and Washington.
• New energy-efficient windows at Bench, Highland, Newman, Poly, Washington, Lewis and Clark and Senior.
• New heating, cooling and ventilation system at Senior.
• New roofs for Highland, McKinley, Meadowlark, Ponderosa, Washington, Lewis and Clark, Riverside, Career Center, West, Senior and Skyview. Insurance coverage may pay the $1.28 million cost of replacing the Skyview roof that was damaged in a June hailstorm. If so, that bond money would be used for auditorium and stage rigging safety repairs at Senior, West and Skyview and locker room roof repair at Daylis Stadium.
The bond repairs constitute a no-frills list of the most pressing deferred maintenance needs in a district that is educating more than 15,000 students. The district’s total deferred maintenance is estimated to be $123 million. Let’s get started on fixing up our schools — with zero-interest expense. Let’s take care of the buildings we have built for our children. Please vote for the elementary and high school bonds by Tuesday.