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Commentary: School bond situation 'a perfect storm'

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A perfect storm.

As our county ponders the upcoming bond issue question posted by the Elko County School District through the Board of Trustees, I offer the following thoughts:

First and foremost, the Elko County School District and we, the residents of Elko County, have enjoyed the benefits of Pay as you go for the better part of four decades. However, a majority of the Elko County Citizens that participated in the 2020 election voted to abolish the Pay as you go capital project program. This creative funding model has built an extensive list of projects since the inception. The fund was deliberately developed to be restricted to capital and building improvement projects only and was done without incurring any debt. It is hard to imagine where our county would be in terms of the School District’s capital infrastructure without this model. What is certain is, we would have had debt along the way for any project that was constructed.

Recently, there have been issues raised about the legitimacy of the projects completed and the process lacked transparency. Our Board of Trustees is an elected seven-member board representing seven different districts (regions) of Elko County, thus providing regional input and the Board of Trustees have been transparent in as much as the NRS requires, all the projects were publicly approved. Could the board have done more to engage with the public, absolutely. Any concern or resentment rests with the elected body. Their policies or seat is supported or rejected by elections. While we enjoy a representative form of government, this underscores the value and importance for all of us to be involved and engaged with our government at all levels.

In terms of legitimacy and optics, I really sense that the community wants additional public involvement rather than just the required involvement. And I think that is a rational expectation that we, the citizens have an opportunity for additional public involvement. One way that this could be done is that the Board of Trustees create a Capital Investment Committee comprised of a relative cross section of our county. This designated committee would also fall under the requirement of the Nevada Open Meeting Law, and would specifically evaluate each identified project based on the project’s individual merit, overall need, and equity. These projects would then be prioritized with a recommendation to the Trustees for possible adoption.

While I am not really a fan of the debt, it seems that traditional financing is perhaps a less expensive option these days given what we are seeing in construction inflation. So, the question for us is, do we throw the baby out with the bath water? While many of our citizens have expressed concern, is it concern with the funding of capital projects for our schools (those tax dollars would have likely gone to another government function) or is it the specific project? If this 50-cent levy is opposed, the other taxing entities could and most likely would absorb the tax rate, thus not providing a tax cut but keeping the tax amount the same and simply diverting the rate from the school district’s brick and mortar to other governmental functions.

Also, a no vote would also impact a future bond question. In the future if the school district receives a voter approved debt service rate for a new bond, other local governments would need to lower their tax rates to make room for the new voter approved debt service rate. Or if the tax rate goes away, the complexity as I understand it, the tax cap/abatements instituted many years ago by the legislature could negatively impact the value of future tax levies, unless we the voters are allowed to do a tax override, which again does nothing to reduce our tax burden, but increases it.

We’re conservative here, we do not really like taxes, we expect our governmental agencies to spend our money prudently. We expect efficiency and responsibility. The need for new or rehabilitated schools will not go away, some type of funding will be needed.

Our county is at a crossroads with this question. The District will no doubt be faced with the requirement to fund capital projects. These projects benefit the entire county, our children and enhance the built environment of our communities. I will be voting yes to this portion of those tax dollars to be dedicated toward the school district’s approved capital projects. Please do the best you can to inform yourself of the facts before you exercise that most important obligation we have as citizens of this Great Nation.

Delmo Andreozzi is an Elko County commissioner and former city councilman.

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