Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

April 17, 2013

Strawn citizens voice concerns over May bond election


Mineral Wells Index

— By LIBBY CLUETT



STRAWN – A $5 million Strawn ISD bond election, to tear down the old school and build anew, has caused concerns among the district’s residents and taxpayers.

In a regular school board meeting Monday, lasting over two hours, trustees heard the sentiments from area residents and taxpayers.

Bill Hinkson, Greg Crawford, Mike Mallory, Alton Harris, Kirk Hinkson and Alan Alison were among those who voiced their respective concerns during the meeting’s public forum. Some, including former trustees and business owner Lisa Hodgkins, were in support of the bond.

The proposed 25-year bond would increase taxes as much as 45 cents per $100 taxable value, according to financial information on the election. The district’s current tax rate is its maintenance-and-operations rate of $1.04. Strawn has not had an interest-and-sinking tax rate for many years, according to bond information.

However, many shared concerns Monday that the proposed 45-cent interest-and-sinking rate would increase taxpayer’s taxes by 43.26 percent. For a taxpayer with a net home value of $60,000 the annual tax increase would be $382.50, according to the financial information sheet. For property with a taxable value of $185,000, the increase could be as much as $832.50.

“Forty-three percent is huge,” said Kirk Hinkson.

If the bond passes, the district would pay between $314,000 and $318,000 annually over the next 25 years on the $5 million bond.

The proposed bond “is all for academics, it’s not for athletics, it’s for construction of facilities,” said  Interim Superintendent Lane Jackson.

“It’s not for buses or acquisition of land.”

Jackson read from the ballot draft that the election is for “the issuance of bonds for the construction, renovation, acquisition and equipment of school buildings and the levying of the tax in payment thereof.”

“It’s going to be for construction,” he said. “New construction. It leaves the door open in case they want to renovate something. It does include demolition or partial demolition.

“Five million dollars is what we, the district, with our tax base, is all we qualify for,” Jackson explained of the amount for new construction.

“We have plans underway with architects, engineers and construction managers.”

Not all areas of the county generate the same revenue from a penny of tax.

Jackson noted that in Strawn “It takes 10 cents [per $100 taxable property value] in our tax base to generate $1 million.”

Not far away, Palo Pinto ISD is also asking voters to pass a bond – $3 million largely for updates, security, renovations and an addition to their existing building. Unlike Strawn, Palo Pinto’s tax base is such that the proposed bond would add 4 cents per $100 taxable valuation.

Much of PPISD’s revenue comes from properties at Possum Kingdom Lake, whereas Jackson said Strawn’s is mostly ranch land, which often has agricultural as well as homestead tax exemptions.

Crawford said he opposes Strawn ISD’s bond mainly because of timing.

“Wait a few years and it would be much better,” he advised.

“The last five years in the cattle business has been an absolute disaster,” said Crawford, a cattle rancher. He cited rising costs of feed and fuel, combined with a multiple-year drought and the devastating PK Complex fire, which burned much of the area, including his family’s grazing land.

“It’s hard for me to get my arms around and support a 43-percent tax increase,” he said. He reiterated for trustees to “wait a few years down the road” and do the construction-bond process, “maybe slower.”

Bill Hinkson said he wanted to make sure the wording on the ballot was “clear and concise so people know what they are voting for.”

He asked if there is any way the board can remove the bond from the ballot, to which Strawn ISD’s accountant Cameron Gulley said “No.”

Hinkson also noted that Strawn ISD has, “been without strong leadership for about three years. We need someone strong to step into place and find a balance between sports and academics.”

“In my heart, I feel like we have good, adequate facilities here,” Alison said. “Five million, to me, is above and beyond and will have a dire effect on a lot of people in this community.”

But a few community members shared their concern about the facilities and children’s security in them.

The bond election, as well as school board election is May 11.

The district has two at-large places contested by incumbent board members Craig Abbott and Tina Spakes and former board member Reese Sparks.

Early voting by appearance for Strawn ISD’s May 11 uniform election begins April 29 and goes through May 7. It takes place at Strawn City Hall, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. each weekday.

Mail-in ballots must be received on May 3. For more information on obtaining a ballot by mail, call the Palo Pinto County Elections Office at (940) 659-1217.