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Pay-as-you-go inches toward November ballot
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Pay-as-you-go inches toward November ballot

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ELKO – The 75-cent “pay-as-you-go” property tax for school projects has taken a step toward the November ballot and being renewed for 10 more years.

The Elko County Debt Management Board approved the Elko County School District’s proposal for the tax, which would fund multiple building, maintenance and ADA-compliance projects for the next decade.

“The District expects to utilize a pay-as-you-go approach to funding its capital projects through revenues generated by the tax,” stated the school district’s proposal.

According to the school district, the tax would generate approximately $15 million annually based on fiscal year 2020 assessed value over a 10-year term.

About $70 million is needed for the district’s five-year Capital Improvements Plan, anticipating the need for about $140 million in projects over 10 years.

Among them are the construction of Elko High School’s science building and performing arts auditorium, and a new elementary school in Elko that is expected to cost about $44 million.

Casey Kelly, director of construction and building operations for the district, explained that about seven subdivisions planned for the northwest area of Elko could “overtax” Mountain View Elementary within the next few years.

“Two or five years from now is what I’m anticipating and that will have to be done,” Kelly said. “Either that, or bring in more trailers.”

Kelly and Superintendent of Schools Todd Pehrson said they have watched student enrollment slowly progress over the past two years.

“We’ve broken the 10,000 student mark district-wide,” Pehrson said. “It’s looking like that’s where it’s heading.”

Elko County’s pay-as-you-go tax is used to fund construction and maintenance projects and is the only one of its kind in the state. It must be approved by Elko County voters every 10 years.

According to Kelly, the district has three categories for Capital Improvement projects: expansion, replacement and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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The Capital Improvement Plan submitted to the Debt Management Board listed future mechanical and ADA upgrades for multiple schools, including Elko High School, Grammar No. 2 School, Mountain View Elementary, Spring Creek Elementary, Spring Creek High School, Wells Combined School and West Wendover High School.

The first phase of Wells schools mechanical upgrade is scheduled to begin this summer.

“Costs are getting phenomenally high now,” Kelly explained. The cost per square foot for West Wendover Elementary four years ago was $228. The cost at Liberty Peak Elementary was $338 per square foot, and the upcoming science building at Elko High School is projected at $413 per square foot.

Without pay-as-you-go, projects, such as the EHS performing arts building might be delayed, Kelly said.

“It’s really important that this continues as is,” he said. “If this doesn’t pass, we either cancel that or push it out way back until we figure out how we’re going to fund that.”

When asked by at-large member Harry Botsford about using less expensive modules, or trailers, Kelly and Pehrson both said it is an option the district wants to try to avoid.

“It’s cheaper to put in the trailers, but you don’t get the longevity of it,” Kelly said. “Trailers last about 10 to 20 years. Elko High School’s main building was constructed in 1917.”

Pehrson said in his 29-year experience as an educator in Elko County, “nothing replaces brick-and-mortar in my mind. The size isn’t the same and it takes away from the community for the kids. It makes kids feel pretty good about their place if they’re in a nice school that’s well-maintained.”

About a year ago, Elko County Commissioners discussed the possibility of using 10 cents out of the pay-as-you-go tax to fund courthouse capital improvement projects in light of the mandated third district judge for the Fourth Judicial District.

But after learning about the projected growth in Elko, Debt Management Chair and Commissioner Cliff Eklund said he is doubtful about that plan.

“As you know, there were some budget problems within the County and we were in the process of trying to negotiate a reduction in the pay-as-you-go, but as I hear you talking, it isn’t very possible,” Eklund said.

The board unanimously approved the plan. Members Reece Keener, mayor of Elko, and Daniel Corona, mayor of West Wendover, were absent.

The tax proposal will now go before Elko County Commissioners for consideration. If not renewed, the tax would expire in June 2022.

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Courts, K-12 schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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