Elkhorn to see second referendum question Nov. 8 for operating costs

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Jonah Beleckis
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ELKHORN—Residents in the Elkhorn Area School District will vote on a second school referendum Tuesday, with this one asking for $300,000 annually for operational costs.

The recurring operational spending would start in 2018 and is projected to increase school property taxes by $17 on a $100,000 home. However, that number could change next year based on how much state aid the district receives.

The first referendum, for $22.9 million, was projected to generate an $8 tax rate increase per $100,000 of property value, but higher-than-expected state aid helped the district decrease taxes this year.

If the first referendum passes, construction would begin in spring. That means operating and maintenance costs would not arise until after the project wraps up. 

The first referendum asks for $22.9 million in renovations and additions. They include the purchase of property east of the high school, building a greenhouse, developing Market Street and improving the high school auditorium.

State law requires the district to have two separate questions because the two are paid for in different ways, according to the district’s website. The district can proceed with the $22.9 million referendum through borrowing, while the school board can authorize an increase to the revenue cap for the recurring costs.

The recurring spending would cover utilities, maintenance, repair and equipment for the additional facility and field space. Other operational costs would include staffing and supplies.

Superintendent Jason Tadlock said the multipurpose fields would be used primarily for athletics but could be used for other activities.

The facility advisory committee in June identified needs that the referendums should address. When it came to physical education and athletic space, needs included indoor activity spaces, outdoor fields, storage, maintenance and improvements to the weight room and fitness center.

According to the district’s website, athletic field upgrades include:

-- Four full-size practice/competition/recreational grass fields.

-- Two softball fields.

-- Artificial turf on the football field to extend the playing season, offer access to multiple sports, and lower maintenance and upkeep costs.

-- Resurfacing the track.

-- A small putting/chipping practice green for golf.

Tadlock has heard criticism when it comes to paying for field and athletic spaces, but he is quick to point out the high school soon will top 1,000 students. When the majority of the school’s training facilities and green space were added in the 1990s, the school served about 600 students.

“We’ll get some people who say, ‘Well, I’ll support classrooms and academics, but I don’t want to support sports. I don’t think you need that,’” Tadlock said. “We’re really out of space, and it’s completely inadequate to meet our needs.”

Tadlock said the additional square footage requires money to pay for custodial and energy costs for general upkeep.

In the 2015 referendum, the district did not ask to increase the revenue limit to cover operational costs for new facilities. Officials decided to cover those costs through the general operating fund, Tadlock said.

“With the state of education budgets and where they’re at, the committee and the school board felt very strongly that if we’re going to add these additional spaces as outlines in question No. 1, we needed to make sure we had an operational question,” Tadlock said. “We can’t keep adding to the pie and not including revenue to cover the costs to maintain that.”

It is possible for the operating referendum to pass while the $22.9 million facilities referendum does not. Tadlock said the recurring money still could be used to cover maintenance and operational needs. 

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