Area schools weigh in on upcoming vote
The proposed SILO (School Infrastructure Local Option) tax is now one step closer to coming to Buena Vista County. At a special meeting on Monday, the Storm Lake Community School District Board of Education passed a resolution calling for a vote on the 1% sales tax initiative.
The resolution must be delivered to the auditor's office 75 days before the special election, which is slated for Dec. 16, 2003. This Thursday, Oct. 2 marks 75 days until Dec. 16.
Voters in Buena Vista County will determine whether or not the county will impose the "penny tax" for 10 years to fund school infrastructure projects, beginning on July 1, 2004. Eligible projects include construction, reconstruction, repair, demolition work, purchasing or remodeling of schoolhouses, stadiums, gyms, fieldhouses and bus garages; procurement of school construction sites and the making of site improvements. The funds can also pay for bonds previously issued for school infrastructure projects or future bond issues.
The SILO tax issue needs a simple majority of the vote in order to pass.
All members of the Storm Lake board voted in favor of the resolution, with the exception of Todd Nicholson who was absent.
Storm Lake Superintendent Bill Kruse noted that Storm Lake would use the SILO funds for long-sought projects.
"That of course would mean payment of bonds for the middle school and a new elementary school," Kruse said.
Board member Dan Douglas pointed out that the language of the resolution is intended to encompass the needs of all districts in the county.
"There are a lot of things we may not entertain in those 10 years, but that the other districts might, he said."
Kruse has been in contact with other county districts.
Kruse said it is his understanding that the other districts will be moving on resolutions in the near future, though it may be past the 75-day window before the election.
In passing the resolution, the board also had to pass a revenue purpose statement, which outlines what the district would use its SILO funds for.
The board was given options for two statements, one generic statement and one that included a line about specifically using the funds to construct an elementary school building. The board ultimately passed a more generic statement, which does not promise funds for any certain project.
Members of the board voiced their concern about the specifics of the purpose statement, contemplating whether or not the district wants to explicitly outline the building of a new elementary school.
"We can leave it as broad as possible for right now and come back with an intention statement later," board president Mark Schultz said. "I think we can do this without totally roping off future boards and their needs."
"This is so different from the old way of financing buildings," Douglas said about the SILO tax. "It's important not to tie down future boards. I think people know what are intent is, though, and I think this way will work."
Revenue purpose statements must be presented to the county auditor no later than 60 days before the special election. If other districts don't present theirs on time, Kruse said they will be held to using potential SILO funds for only property tax reduction.
Schools around Buena Vista county are all contemplating the pros and the cons of a possible SILO tax, now that the Storm Lake Community School District has passed the measure.
* The Alta Community School District is beginning the process of exploring the options this tax could have for the district.
"We haven't taken a formal position on it yet, but my hunch is that they'll (the school board) be supportive of the sales tax," Alta superintendent Fred Maharry said.
Maharry says that SILO funds coming into the Alta district could be used to reduce property taxes that have been raised as a result of the district's recent bond issue. The district is just completing the construction of a new middle school building, so SILO money wouldn't be going toward a new building project.
"My hope is that we would also use it for technology and school buses," Maharry said. "I see some real benefits in it."
Maharry said that the Alta district will take action on the issue soon and draft a resolution. Using the estimate of $400 per student, Alta could gain $240,000 a year from the tax.
Maharry said the board is likely to call a special meeting to get the community's input.
"We want to educate people on it and do a lot of listening," he said.
Overall, Maharry feels the possible SILO tax would have a positive impact on the county's students.
"We think it will improve the educational opportunities of students, and that's what it's all about," Maharry said. "If we don't pass the tax, all we're doing is spending our money in Des Moines or Sioux City that goes to their schools."
* At Newell-Fonda, district Superintendent Merle Boerner said his school board is also in the beginning phases of exploring the issue.
"This is my perception....they (the school board) would pass a resolution to bring the issue to a vote, but they haven't taken a real strong position on it," Boerner said. "We haven't really had a chance to talk about it depth."
Boerner said that if the SILO were passed, Newell-Fonda would use the tax money first for property tax relief. He said the N-F district doesn't have a bond issue that it is paying off right now, so the rest of the money would be used for regular infrastructure purposes such as repair and remodeling of buildings, grounds up-keep, buses and technology.
"At this point, we haven't discussed a major building project," he said. "We've got some buildings that are getting pretty old, though, and if the tax passes maybe we'll start looking at those."
The Newell-Fonda leader said that statistics show that most of the counties that have tried to pass the tax have been successful, so he would assume that Buena Vista voters would do the same.
At the $400 average, Newell-Fonda could receive around $100,000 a year from the tax.
"Storm Lake has the largest population by far in Buena Vista County, so we look to them to be the key player in this," Boerner said.
* In the Albert City-Truesdale School District, superintendent Steve Mitchell says his board has no immediate plans to call for a resolution by itself.
But if SILO funds become available, Mitchell said, "It could mean a possible reduction in property taxes. The money can be used for any building use and repairs that would be in the PPEL fund. I think it would be a big benefit to the district."
That benefit could come in the amount of $120,000 a year for the AC-T school district.
"At the next board meeting, we'll have the resolution language in front of us," Mitchell said. "I don't think they'll be any opposition from our board on putting a resolution to a vote."
Mitchell said the issue of a tax has been brought up in his district's communities, but he's not sure how much people really know about it.
"I hope they understand the number of counties around the state that have it and are getting it," he said. "It means additional revenue for schools and that's a good thing for education. We're in the same boat as other counties. Why would you spend money in other counties that goes to schools and not do that in our county?"
* The Sioux Central Community School District is getting used to dealing with SILO resolutions, as it has had to deal with ones being voted on in O'Brien and Clay counties. O'Brien County passed a SILO measure this past summer and Clay County brings the issue to voters today.
"We've supported it in O'Brien and Clay counties, so I would think that we would support it again," Sioux Central superintendent Bonnie Meier said.
She said the revenue purpose statements the district made for the other measures were very broad in their details, but since more money would be coming in from the Buena Vista county tax, they would probably make it more specific.
"We could use it for paying off old bonds and any PPEL purposes likes buses and technology," Meier said. "Since we have a brand new building, we're not looking at any major projects like Storm Lake is."
Meier estimated that Sioux Central could gain $100,000-$150,000 a year from SILO funds. "I think it's a win, win situation," she said.