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|School board to ask voters to extend property tax, again|
The Ouachita Parish School Board will call a special election July 19 to ask eastern Ouachita voters to extend its property tax for parish schools for one more year.
That's what the school board decided at its regular meeting Tuesday.
The school board said extending the property tax is the best option to pay for the proposed new Richwood middle school and Sterlington elementary school. Bids recently received by the school board for construction projects at the schools came in several millions of dollars over budget.
Grant Schlueter of the law firm Foley and Judell of New Orleans said if voters approve the one-year extension, it would generate approximately $9.2 million for the parish school system.
Last summer, eastern Ouachita voters approved the extension of the same property tax for seven more years to give the school board roughly $30 million for the construction of the two new schools and renovations at the existing eastern Ouachita schools.
For the past several months, the school board has worked to figure out how it could build the proposed Richwood school after it came in over budget by about $3 million.
The Rev. John Russell, who represents the Richwood area on the school board, wanted the school board to tap into its general fund to defray the cost of construction at Richwood, but no other board member would go along with his proposal.
Now, the Sterlington elementary school construction cost is estimated to be $3.2 million over budget.
Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber said the school board has looked at several options to find a solution for the over-budget issues, including using general fund money or consolidating schools. The option to extend the property tax is the system's best bet to build the two new schools, he said.
"We're faced with not being able to build these two new schools because since last summer the cost of construction has gone up," Webber said. "The estimates our architects gave us back then have come in really low compared to what we have budgeted. We could have looked at delaying the projects, or using general fund money, or going back to the voters to ask for this one-year extension."
"This will help out all three areas on the eastside without an increase to the taxpayers," Webber continued. "As the value of property goes up, and as more people are paying into it, we'll have more money raised to meet our goals. Through expected growth and with more people paying into the tax, it will be profitable."
"I think it's a great choice and it is something that's needed," Webber added.
If the property tax proposal fails in July, Webber said the school system will have to "go back to the drawing board and look at other options." He feels confident that it will pass.
"The taxpayers in Ouachita Parish have always supported our schools, and we're going to ask one more time for them to help us out on the eastside of the river," Webber said.
School board member A.R. "Red" Sims warned that construction costs will only go up and even if the proposal passes, the school board shouldn't expect to have enough money for all of the projects it wants completed in eastern Ouachita.
School board business manager Richie Garrett agreed the school board will have to be frugal with its money.
"You are going to have to keep it tight to make sure you have plenty of money to do these projects, and we're going to have to move fast," Garrett said.