Courthouse plan may hurt school effort

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

Many Albert Lea school district administrators, teachers and board members took a big gulp when the county decided to issue bonds to build a new courthouse. With a school referendum on the ballot for the general election, many feel that the county’s raise in taxes may have a negative effect on voter’s decisions.

&uot;I personally don’t know if it will have a big effect either way,&uot; said Dave Prescott, superintendent of Albert Lea Schools. &uot;I would guess, though, that it will probably have a negative impact on how the voters feel.&uot;

The county commissioners passed a bond issue on a 3-2 vote last week that will finance the building of a new courthouse. The cost will be $25.7 million for the courthouse, and with two other highway maintenance shops added onto the bonds, the overall cost will be $26,329,236.

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The bonds will be paid back over 20 years. Owners of $50,000 houses will pay $68 per year more on their property taxes, according to estimates, while owners of $200,000 houses will pay $268 more per year.

The Albert Lea school district is hoping that voters will pass an operating referendum that will give the district $2.25 million over the next five years. The referendum will be a two-part question.

The first question will ask for a five-year, $1.7 million operating referendum, which will &uot;maintain the status quo, which isn’t a good situation right now,&uot; according to Prescott.

The second will ask for an additional $550,000 for that five-year period. That funding would reduce class sizes to what they were before this year’s budget cuts, expand elective opportunities back to what they were before, add an all-day kindergarten program, and would restore the one-mile busing radius rule for elementary school students.

The first question would raise the yearly taxes for a $50,000 home by $55 and for a $200,000 home by $219. The second question, if passed, would raise property taxes for a $50,000 home by $77 a year, adding on $22 a year to the first question, and for a $200,000 home by $307 a year, adding on $88 a year for the first question.

&uot;We’re dealing with two totally different issues,&uot; said school board member Bill Leland. &uot;Buildings versus kids. I think if people get educated on the issues that we as a district are dealing with, then they will make the right decision.&uot;

&uot;People don’t have control over one issue but they do over ours,&uot; he added. &uot;If they don’t get informed it will definitely have a negative impact on our referendum.&uot;

Prescott agreed that education on the referendum will be helpful to the district. He said that he hoped that TEAM, Together Education Achieves More, a private group which is lobbying for the referendum, could make a great impact with the frequent meetings and neighborhood gatherings they will have, as well as their advertising campaign.

&uot;With TEAM and just by getting referendum information out there, I think it will provide a lot of reason for the voters to say yes to both questions,&uot; said Prescott.