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Whitewater referendum ‘paused’

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Kevin Hoffman
September 15, 2010
— The Whitewater School District won’t need more taxpayer money after all—at least not yet.

The school board unanimously voted Tuesday to indefinitely “pause” its plan to put forward a November referendum to exceed the state’s revenue cap. District officials learned in August $617,241 in federal funding will flow to the school system through the education jobs bill, allowing them to take some pressure off local residents.


Even though district officials learned Aug. 19 the district would be getting federal money, the school board agreed Aug. 23 to ask voters for a five-year continuation to exceed the cap by $620,000.


A 2006 referendum increased the school tax by $49 per $100,000 of assessed property value. That will expire June 30, and without an extension, the extra tax will be eliminated.


“Considering the climate this year and the last 24 months, financial responsibility is the main question here,” board member Kurt Harkness said. “What financial responsibility are we given if we get $617,000 and we go out and ask for another $620,000? Go out and look at the neighborhoods.”


That doesn’t mean the tax relief will last forever. Board Vice President Daniel McCrea said the referendum could come back as early as April.


Most board members conceded the decision was somewhat politically charged. They said justifying a higher school tax was difficult when the district is receiving additional federal funds.


The allocation through the education jobs bill must be used on employee salaries and fringe benefits.


“I think we’re going to get lambasted if we go to referendum with the anti-referendum group knowing we just got $620,000,” McCrea said. “I think this at least paints a picture we’re slowing things down, we’re taking a pause, let’s see what the future holds. We know we’re going to have to go back to it.”


Several factors will determine when and how the district returns to voters with another referendum. The board agreed it couldn’t determine what its financial situation will be or what needs it has.


Board Clerk Caroline Wieman reminded everyone the state will have a different political landscape with a new governor and assembly. She said it’s impossible to predict what priority school funding will have.


Voters still will have a referendum question to answer Nov. 2. The school district is asking to issue $2.1 million in general obligation bonds to refinance a loan.


Jim Strasburg, director of business and auxiliary services, said by refinancing the district could lock in a 2.5-percent interest rate as opposed to the current 5.5 percent. It would then be able to pay off its debt 10 years earlier and save $565,000, District Administrator Suzanne Zentner said.



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