MISHAWAKA – School City of Mishawaka is one step closer to asking voters if they’re willing to pay — via increased property taxes — for $28 million in repairs and upgrades to the district’s school and administrative buildings.
The St. Joseph County Election Board today approved the wording of the referendum question that will be put before voters in a special election in November.
If the referendum is approved, taxes would increase by about $100 per year on a property valued at $100,000, school officials have said.
Superintendent Terry Barker said the list of priorities has been refined since a series of public meetings was held this spring.
The biggest change is the removal from the list of upgrades to the practice field and the football field at Mishawaka High School.
Artificial turf is estimated to cost more than $2 million.
Barker said he never really intended those items to be financed by the referendum, but rather they were on the initial list the district put out in an effort to “verify rough estimates.”
A fundraising campaign has been going on since March to raise money for the turf.
“We’re not going to sneak it in” to the referendum, Barker said of the potential artificial turf installation at Steele Stadium. “We’re not going to back-door it. We’re not going to say, ‘We have money left over. Let’s do the field.’ We’ll do more safety, technology upgrades if there is anything left.
“It could be 2052 and we’re still playing on grass, and we’ll have home-field advantage,” he joked.
Other more minor changes also have been made to the facilities needs list.
For example, rather than replacing every restroom partition with new materials, he said, some of them will be repaired and resurfaced.
When asked to address rumors that some schools may close if the referendum doesn’t pass, Barker dispelled them.
He did acknowledge that if the referendum fails, there definitely will be challenges to face if the mechanicals break down at some of the school buildings.
“If the furnaces go out at Hums (Elementary School),” there’s going to be a question, he said. “The same issue at Twin Branch (Elementary School). If the chiller goes down, it’ll either be no air conditioning or something else is going to give.”
Election board’s role
The referendum question reads, at least partially, like this:
“Shall the School City of Mishawaka, St. Joseph County, Indiana, issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance the 2014/2015 School Building Basic Renewal/Restoration and Safety Project ... which is estimated to cost not more than $28 million and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by $0.2944 per $100 of assessed value?”
Republican election board member Murray Winn said this question is much clearer than a previous referendum question concerning a regional transportation district in 2009.
“The wording of that question was very difficult to understand,” Winn said. “But we got that question from the state and didn’t have any control over it. The new Indiana Code says we can change the wording if we didn’t like it.”
According to election board president Jim Korpal, the Democrat representative to the board, this is the first time in his memory that the board has had any say over the question.
The next steps with the election will happen at August’s election board meeting, during which members and other county staffers will look at the ballot format, the number and location of precincts, and any other changes to the election, Winn said.