By Sue Moore
The Vicksburg school district will ask residents to approve a 3.3-mill tax in the May 5 election to finance building improvements estimated at $40-42 million.
If approved, the proposal would cost taxpayers $3.30 per $1,000 taxable valuation for six years.
It will be called an increase on the ballot because an earlier 3.53-mill levy for a bond issue will end this year, before the new levy would begin.
But Asst. Superintendent Steve Goss pointed out that taxpayers will see a slight drop in the tax rate if voters approve the new levy – the difference between the expiring 3.53 mills and the new 3.3-mill levy.
“We want to ensure that every kid gets the most educational benefit they can while in the Vicksburg school system,” said Superintendent Keevin O’Neill. “It should be the best we have to offer and that depends on how we maintain our buildings, keeping them 100 percent up to date with a safe and comfortable learning environment.”
“If we let the facilities deteriorate over time, then the cost to update and repair escalates,” Goss told the school board at its December meeting.
The proposed bond issue was planned in 2014 when a technology bond issue was passed, knowing that the facilities would need a hard look in 2020.
This new issue would be in the neighborhood of $40-42 million, Goss said. The earlier bond issue will be paid off in May.
“We are at 6.85 mills now. If the next request is authorized the total school millage would be a reduction to 6.6 mills. Technically it is an increase because of the way the wording on the ballot needs to be phrased. Our hope is to slightly reduce the millage rate with each future request,” Goss said.
Goss said the plan is to borrow the funds through a state bond loan fund for the first time. That uses the state’s better credit rating and reduces interest payments on a six-year issue. New legislation now allows the construction to be done without paying prevailing wage rates, also reducing the cost of repairs, Goss explained.
“The earlier facilities studies conducted by Tower Pinkster and Frederick Construction looked at what we currently have in place and then what we want the buildings to look like five to 20 years out. We can plan for that and every six years retire the bonds and ask for replacement money to keep up our buildings so students can learn in a good environment.”
Should the millage fail, the rate would fall back to 3.3 mills. And if it passes, the use of the proceeds is limited. “We can’t use bond proceeds to buy school buses or other items as there are very tight restrictions on how this money can be spent. We are very careful about this. If we let the facilities go and don’t have bond proceeds to fix them, then the money will have to be paid out of the general fund, especially for technology upgrades,” Goss said.
“We compare costs to build new or renovate, which we believe is much more cost effective. We have identified priorities with an index of what we want to improve, nice to have but not urgent,” Goss said in a later interview. “We are never done with repairs so we will need to ask for support about every six years with this kind of plan in mind. We keep our projections pretty conservative and plan for flexibility so we can change as we go forward. We want to keep our vibrant schools in vibrant Vicksburg.”