$7.8M in proposed bond projects are a mixed bag

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Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011 6:27 am

In 40 days, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, it will be up to the 10,237 registered voters in the Nogales Unified School District to decide on a $7.8 million capital improvement bond issue and whether to approve an increase of an existing bond override financing package. Recent voter turnout trends suggest that not even half will bother to cast a ballot.

It is unclear why the school board decided on an off-year election. Recent history shows the vote can go either way. In the last election, held in March 2010, a bond override was passed when just 1,545 voters cast ballots - 1,104 in favor and 434 against.

A year earlier the same override proposal was defeated when just 796 people went to the polls. Nearly 56 percent or 443 of the 796 ballots cast were against the measure with 354 voting in favor. Observers at the time said district officials were overly confident since the override had already received voter support twice before.

Superintendent Steve Zimmerman said he will not make that same mistake.

Zimmerman will be "looping out" to local service organizations and teachers to pitch the purported virtues of tagging another $129 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to their residential tax bill and $258 per $100,000 of assessed valuation for commercial property.

The average residence in the district is valued at $113,133 and would see its annual tax bill go up by about $145 per year. The average business, valued at $548,396, would see its taxes raised more than $1,414 per year.

A flier prepared by NUSD says the bond money is needed to "construct, renovate or repair school facilities. The building within NUSD are aging and in need of immediate maintenance and attention."

But nearly 40 percent of the money, about $3 million, will be used for new construction at Nogales High School, including a new science building and a 7,000-square-foot addition to the gymnasium.

The balance of the money will be used for electrical upgrades; repairs and replacement of roofs; upgrades to athletic facilities; and surveillance cameras at five schools.

Assistant Superintendent Fernando Parra pointed out that these are projects that have been in the planning stage for several years. The list was culled from a larger menu of items that totaled more than $16 million. In addition, principals were asked to list needed projects for their school sites.

Parra said the district hired consultant David Ramsower of Arcadis, a construction management firm, to help ferret out the priorities.

"We looked at how we can best continue to safely provide quality services" not only to students and staff but also members of the community at large, many of whom take advantage of the district's athletic and recreational facilities, Parra said.

Parra, formerly a principal at NHS who was appointed assistant superintendent last spring, said the district has implemented a more efficient requisition system to use the $1 million already earmarked in the capital-improvement budget to address other ongoing repairs and maintenance issues at schools ranging from breaks in water lines to new fencing.

The district is operating under its third voter-approved maintenance and operation override, originally passed in 2000. It was set at 4.15 percent of the state-designated limit based on property values. In 2005 it was increased to 6.39 percent of the limit and was renewed at the same level in 2010.

It is a property tax that in 2010-11 raised $1.73 million. Because property values have decreased over the past couple of years it is estimated the tax will generate $1.68 million, nearly a three-percent reduction. Because of delinquencies in property tax bills, the revenues may be lower.

This time around the district is asking voters to approve a 10-percent override with the hopes of raising an additional $1 million in revenue.

The money is used for academic and extracurricular programs not covered with regular budget funding. The bond funds are also used to keep salaries competitive to other districts in an effort to attract quality personnel, Zimmerman said.

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