Lowndes County Schools Superintendent Lynn Wright, left, and school board attorney Jeff Smith make their pitch for the bond issue during a visit to The Dispatch offices last week. Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
August 9, 2014 11:23:05 PM
Registered voters in the Lowndes County School District will go to the polls on Aug. 26 to choose whether or not to approve a $47 million bond for improvements. School districts and municipalities issue bonds as a way to raise money, usually for infrastructure improvements. Investors who buy the bonds receive tax-free interest; usually the principal is paid at the end of the bond's term.
This week, The Dispatch met with three key proponents of the bond -- schools superintendent Lynn Wright, school board attorney Jeff Smith and architect Joey Henderson -- to ask some questions about the bond issue:
Have the schools used bonds before?
Smith: "The last time the county did one was in 1983. If we do this, it should hopefully take care of the county for another 31 years."
Henderson: "We can do a little over $50 million, capacity wise, but the board thought it was best to keep it in the mid to high 40s. Because of the needs and what they thought would be feasible we're at $47 million now."
What are the terms of the bond issue?
Smith: "We know if they were sold right now the interest rates would be between 2.75 and 3 percent." Smith said the county should pay the bond off in 18-1/2 to 19 years.
What will the bond issue fund?
Henderson: "It will go to build a new centralized vocational center, a new high school for New Hope. We're going to get some equipment furnishings for New Hope, and we're going to rework that campus in a master plan. We're going to pull that high school off of (its current site) and...move the middle school students to the high school building. We're going to take the elementary and do an upper and lower elementary, take down some of the worst of those buildings and revamp that campus, really for circulation reasons, traffic reasons. We're doing the same thing at Caledonia campus as well."
The county schools are expecting sizable funding increases by 2017 when Paccar, Severstal and several other industries roll off. Why not pay for these improvements with that money?
Smith: "I'm not trying to be a pessimist but by 2017...with the growth and the interest rates, the time is now if there's going to be a time. It's sort of a confluence. All of the stars have lined up. The interest rates are probably at their lowest. There is a consensus of all the principals and school board members of what is needed."
How will the bond issue affect my taxes?
Smith: "If Lowndes County stayed constant and did not increase in revenue, it would be about $8 to $10 a month on a home at car with a combined $100,000 value. When the tax rolls are approved this month by supervisors, that's what we'll have on the Aug. 26 election. A lot of people would vote for this if it didn't cost anything. The chances of people's taxes going up are slim but we still have to be honest with people. The time is now if there's going to be a time."
Is this an all or nothing proposal? What if I support one project but not the other?
Henderson: "The board really set their priorities on what they thought was the best grouping of things."
What is required for the vote to pass?
Smith: "Sixty percent of the votes cast."
What happens if the bond issue doesn't pass?
Henderson: "We don't really have a Plan B. The board has not officially adopted a Plan B."
Wright: "The career tech center is so critical. We're one of three school districts in the state of Mississippi that doesn't have a career tech center. Lowndes County is number one in industrial development in the state of Mississippi. We have an unemployment rate of employable people of 34 percent in Lowndes County. Industry has to go outside of Lowndes County to hire skilled laborers. The schools are one of the biggest attractors to business. We've got to expand. This is a drastic need that we have.
"Aside from putting our students in better buildings and providing them with more opportunities, with industry coming in, looking at these schools, seeing what we have. People are going to want to settle here and then it's going to build a broader tax base and we're going to be able to do more things."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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