Billings voters recognized a good deal in giving overwhelming approval to elementary and high school bond issues that will replace leaking roofs, obsolete fire alarms, energy-wasting windows and an inefficient heating system in Billings Public Schools.
Among 30,427 ballots cast in the mail election, nearly 62 percent were for the bond issues totaling $12 million. These special “stimulus” bonds are a great bargain for Billings schools and taxpayers because the federal government will pay all of the interest expense. Some of the principal will be covered by interest earned on a sinking fund, and a state school facilities program is expected to subsidize some of the costs as it does for other school districts statewide. In short, Billings Public Schools will get $12 million in long-needed repairs at a cost of less than $12 million to local taxpayers.
Furthermore, local contractors are expected to bid on these jobs, which will be completed over the next couple of years, injecting millions of dollars into the Billings economy.
The projects selected for these bond issues were deemed by the Billings trustees as the schools’ most pressing facility needs. However, the $12 million in repairs is just a fraction of the estimated $123 million in deferred maintenance that has accumulated over the past 20 years in the 30 buildings that house the community’s 15,500 public school students.
Thanks to the trustees, volunteers and Superintendent Keith Beeman, who got the word out on what was at stake in this bond vote. Thanks to all the voters who supported this investment in our schools. As a result, thousands of Billings students will have safer, drier, quieter, more comfortable places to learn. And the upgrades will result in lower gas and electric bills year after year.
It should be noted that, according to the Yellowstone County Elections Office, the bond issues won approval in every elementary trustee district and every outlying school district that sends students to Billings high schools. This pair of bond issues united people throughout the community.
Voter registration drive
The next election cycle is already under way. At the Nov. 2 general election, Montanans will elect a U.S. representative, one justice of the Montana Supreme Court, more than 100 state legislators, numerous county officials and decide on several ballot issues.
To be part of this election, Montanans first must register to vote. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch will join Interim Chancellor Dr. Rolf Groseth in hosting a voter registration drive at Montana State University Billings on Sept. 16. The registration drive will start about 10:30 a.m. just inside the library building entrance, according to MSU Billings. More information about Voter Registration Month can be found online at http://sos.mt.gov/News.
Judge, attorney forums
Yellowstone County voters will find choices on their Nov. 2 ballots for offices that rarely have had competition, including district judge and county attorney. In an effort to inform voters, two local nonpartisan organizations, the Billings Branch of the American Association of University Women and the Billings League of Women Voters, will host meetings featuring talks by opposing candidates. Both meetings are open to the public, offering excellent opportunities to learn more about these candidates.
The first meeting will feature candidates for the new 6th District judge seat, Mary Jane McCalla Knisely and Damon Gannett. Candidates run on a nonpartisan basis for this office. The program will start at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at the Beartooth Room of the Student Union Building at Montana State University Billings. The AAUW will host this meeting.
The second meeting will feature candidates for Yellowstone County attorney, Democrat Art Lusse and Republican Scott Twito. They will be speaking at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 7, at the YWCA, 909 Wyoming Ave. This gathering will be hosted by the Billings League of Women Voters. Lunch will be served to those who attend.