The Platte County Board of Education approved ballot language to take to the voters for the April election, setting the proposed capital project fund tax levy at $0.43 per $100 of assessed valuation.
During the regular meeting held Thursday, Dec. 18, superintendent Dr. Mike Reik gave a final update on the district’s growth management plan before receiving unanimous approval from the seven-member board. The increased property tax was estimated at as much as $0.52 during the planning stage, but Reik expressed confidence that the proposal would allow the district to make the required debt-service payments on the $29-million project during the next 20 years.
Reik’s final presentation showed a comparison of current tax levies of school districts in the Kansas City metro area in Platte, Clay and Jackson counties.
The only districts currently with a lower number are North Platte, West Platte and Smithville. With approval, Platte County’s levy would increase to $5.0289 per $100 of assessed valuation and still rank in the same spot. The cost to the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 of value — not fair market price — would pay an additional $82 per year.
“When it comes to fiscal responsibility, the facts are we are being very responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Reik said. “Nobody likes, necessarily, to pay taxes. Certainly, we want good services, and we provide good services. That being said, this is a very low tax rate as taxes go.”
According to a commissioned study, Platte County’s buildings are an aggregate 196 students over functional capacity this school year — up almost 100 from 2013-14. Only two buildings remain under functional capacity with total enrollment expected to top 4,000 next year, according to trends and a study of expected residential growth inside the district’s borders.
The final project calls for the closing of Rising Star Elementary (a kindergarten-only facility in Platte City), annexation of Paxton School to become part of the high school, renovations and additions to Pathfinder Elementary in the southern part of the district and a second elementary school to be built off of Fourth Street with eventual access to Kentucky Avenue. Siegrist Elementary would be converted from serving first through third grades to K-5, along with the proposed new building.
District officials continue to champion the idea of operating with increased efficiency in transportation, staffing and utilities with approval of the proposal.
“Is it going to solve the problem forever? No,” board member Adam McGinness said. “As long as we keep growing, we’re going to have needs. But for right now, this is a very good project for less money than it was in 2012. I feel very confident in what we’re asking for.”
The official ballot language reads:
“Shall the Board of Education of the Platte County R-III School District be authorized to increase the operating tax levy of the District by $0.43 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation for a period of 20 years for the purpose of constructing, renovating, improving, furnishing and equipping school facilities, including: A new elementary school to be located in Platte City on property the District currently owns, Additional classrooms and a multipurpose room addition to Pathfinder Elementary School, and Renovations necessary to convert Paxton School to serve Platte County High School students? If this question is approved, the adjusted operating tax levy of the District is estimated to be $3.9766 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation taking into account the Proposition C rollback resulting from sales tax revenue allocated to the District from the State of Missouri.”
Prior to the vote, district patron Kirby Holden addressed the board, bringing up concerns with recent survey results and urging the district to alter its plans to propose a project that could pass.
In the spring of 2012, voters handily defeated — 56 percent against — a similar proposal from Platte County. Park Hill and Smithville voters have also failed levy proposals in the past year.
Holden noted that recent survey results have showed a dip in approval of the Platte County board and its top administrators, specifically talking about matters that involve finances and communication. He said that Barry School and Pathfinder Elementary do need help immediately, but based on recent governmental trends in Platte County, this tax increase is risky.
“We pay for these surveys — 10 grand plus,” Holden said. “Look at them and look what they’re saying. People are sending a pretty clear message, the voters of the county are. Now, if you want the stuff to keep dropping, you can just keep throwing stuff at them, and they can fail it again.”
Reik countered during his presentation, saying that he believes the district is listening to concerns.
The 2015 proposal calls for a much lower increase — down from $0.60 — and includes a 20-year sunset clause. The current plan does not seek added tax money for operations, a luxury based off limited growth in assessed value within the district the past two years, and seeks to address buildings only, while eliminating other secondary plans like tennis courts and parking lots.
Reik also noted the organized opposition to the 2012 ballot measure, which caught officials off guard. He believes the information, some he said was inaccurate, spread in that campaign affected the changing views of patrons during recent surveys.
Piecing out the project into smaller projects would cost taxpayers more money, according to Reik, due to continually escalating construction costs coupled with the current low interest rates.
“It is our reality,” Reik said, “and options are limited. There are a set of fairly inconvenient facts we must learn to negotiate.”
Holden’s presentation came as a result of a question asked at the last of three public forums on Platte County’s proposal.
A patron asked about Smithville’s recent failure of a 79-cent proposal in November by about a 55-45 margin. Reik said the results were actually a bit encouraging because yes votes increased from the prior year, and Smithville was dealing with controversy over a recent scandal involving a terminated principal at the high school.
Patron Insight — a company out of Stillwell, Kan. — recently revealed the results of a survey conducted of 400 random district voters and showed about 61 percent of respondents favored Platte County’s proposal, but that number dropped to about 53 percent when tied to a tax increase. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Holden pointed out that Smithville and Park Hill both received similar feedback prior to their failed levies.
“That’s been a part of our effort is to listen and understand what our community desires,” Reik said. “Our taxpayers told us (2012) was too much. We listened. I think that’s what they want.”