Voters approve PERL in both Alta and Aurelia, funds can boost Community Ed, recreation programs

Friday, November 5, 2021

Voters in both communities - across the county line - approved the Alta-Aurelia plan for a Public Education and Recreation Levy when they went to the polls Tuesday.

In Buena Vista County (Alta), the public measure passed 274-215 - a 56 percent approval rate. In Cherokee County (Aurelia) it passed 168 to 113. The levy is projected to produce about $65,000 annually starting next school year.

“It’s big. We’re very pleased, and grateful for the voter turnout,” Superintendent of Schools Bill Walters said.

The voter-approved property tax levy for up to 13.5 cents per thousand in valuation can be used for public recreation places or playground areas in school buildings and grounds, and public recreational and educational activities throughout the school district boundaries. It can also be used to help fund before and after school or summer school programming. The levy remain in place unless rescinded by voters. There are currently 31 school districts in Iowa utilizing the levy.

Last March, the PERL levy failed in the district by only four votes.

Walters was confident heading into this Election Day. “I felt pretty good about the chances, it was so close last time, and there was so much going on at that time. I was really glad to see that it passed in both communities,” the superintendent said. “I had talked to a lot of people and groups, and the feeling about it was really positive.”

Alta-Aurelia would like to use some of the funds to launch a Community Education program. Walters noted that the communities have not previously had adult education offerings. “To begin with, we have a lot of people on staff with a lot of varied talents who we think would be happy to share them” in community classes and workshops, he said. “Subject matter-wise, I would say we can just about cover it all. If we can get people in our buildings working on stuff, learning new things, that will only make them great role models for our kids.”

Recreation will be another key goal with the revenue. The schools share facilities with both of its cities, and look forward to being involved in recreation programming with both, according to Walters.

Levy revenue can help the fitness centers that the district offers in both communities, with 150 members outside of the schools’ students and staff currently. In the past, updating and replacement of equipment has had to be put off. Walters would like to see a rotating schedule to replace equipment after a set number of years.

Beyond those needs, PERL may allow the district to be better attuned to the needs of their communities, he feels. “We can explore some avenues that our public may really want to do, knowing that we have a stream of continuing revenue.”

Walters has said that while the levy continues, the district is not required to always use it, allowing some flexibility to not collect the revenue in a year that may be down for the local communities. “I was confident we could get it, but we don’t necessarily have to use it,” Walters said.

AA leaders also hope to make the levy tax-neutral by adjusting other levies.

The PERL levy survived a legislative challenge late in the last legislative session, when an Iowa Senate tax cut bill proposed elimination.