Voters to choose
Cut taxes or upgrade sports?
Voters in the Marion-Florence school district will be asked May 9 to make a choice.
They can decrease taxes on a typical home by $66.41 a year for 11 years.
Or they can approve $3.26 million in borrowing that would pay for such improvements as new locker rooms and a new concession stand outside the southwest edge of the track at Warrior Stadium.
The choice isn’t that simple, however.
While reducing taxes might seem desirable, there’s no guarantee other taxing units wouldn’t see a decline in school taxes as a chance to increase their taxes.
“I’m on the city council in Colby,” interim superintendent Lee Leiker told the Record this week. “Cities absolutely do look at such things, and I can’t control the cities, the townships, and the others.”
The City of Marion, for example, with one of the county’s highest tax rates, might see as and opportunity any drop in the schools’ tax rate, which is among the lowest in peer districts.
“You can’t put school bonds toward street improvement in Marion,” Leiker said.
So the schools looked at what could be done instead while considering what to do now that bonds for other projects have been paid off.
Bonds that built the Performing Arts Center and Sports and Aquatic Center will be paid off this year.
New bonds could be sold for a new project without increasing taxes — just as those bonds originally were sold after bonds that paid for Marion Middle School were retired.
Leiker admits that a project involving mainly sports wouldn’t have been his first choice for what to build with continued borrowing.
But there are limits on what can be paid for with bonds. They might be used, for example, to build and equip a new facility to instruct students in a high-tech vocational area, but they couldn’t be used to pay salaries of instructors for such a facility.
Although the project, as proposed, would create football locker rooms, a summer weight room, and improved and more energy-efficient lighting at ball diamonds, Leiker didn’t want it to be exclusively for school sports.
“If we’re going to do something like this, I want to do something for the entire community,” Leiker said.
So plans include using the proposed facility’s summer weight room in the winter as pickleball courts in hope of creating social and recreational opportunities, especially for those 55 and older.
“That’s public use,” Leiker said. “That’s good use of it.”
Such a space couldn’t be created in the middle school gymnasium because it is needed for physical education classes.
The newly created space also could be used as a public or private meeting venue, complete with restroom and concession facilities, rented out at cost.
Warrior Stadium wouldn’t be impacted by the new facilities except that leaky areas beneath the bleachers, where concessions and lockers now are located, might be used instead for storage.
Fixing the leaks wasn’t an option, Leiker said. The district tried caulking leaky seams in stadium seats, but expansion and contraction of the concrete seats in hot and cold weather almost immediately dislodged the caulking.
“We could spray the seats with some kind of tar,” he said, “but who would want to sit on that?”
Leiker hopes to shave a year off retirement of the 11-year bonds by using not just taxes but also annual payments in lieu of taxes from Sunflower Wind Farm to help retire the debt.
“There are certainly arguments against the project,” Leiker said, “but we got a late start on this, and this is the best we could come up with.”
The special election will cost the district an estimated $7,310, according to county clerk Tina Spencer.
There would have been no cost to the district if the election had been delayed until November, he said, but this might have run afoul of laws regarding timing of school bond elections.
Casting your ballot
The only question on the special election ballot will be whether to approve the borrowing.
Early in-person voting at the courthouse will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, starting Monday and concluding at noon May 8.
Election Day voting will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 9 at Eastmoor United Methodist Church in Marion and at the Florence American Legion post.
Some voters have been assigned to unfamiliar polling places. Postcards have informed those affected of any changes, but if they have further questions, they may contact the clerk’s office at (620) 382-2185.
As usual, a photo ID will be required to vote.
Applications to vote by mail or by delivering a ballot to the courthouse are available from the clerk’s office and at https://www.kssos.org/forms/elections/av1.pdf.
Tuesday is the deadline for applying.