The North Platte Public Schools on Tuesday launched its series of public forums to hear from patrons concerning the district’s proposed safety and security initiative.
The tax override initiative will be North Platte’s first mail-in ballot election, and NPPS Executive Director of Finance Stuart Simpson said ballots will go out toward the end of February. The district’s registered voters will have until 5 p.m. March 10 to return ballots, said County Clerk/Election Commissioner Rebecca Rossell.
About 15 people attended the first forum, held at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds’ Centennial Building on Tuesday afternoon. Simpson and Superintendent Ron Hanson presented the initiative and answered questions.
Hanson said incidents at public schools across the country “unfortunately elevated the safety and security priority to us.”
The proposal would address safety and security concerns at North Platte High School, Buffalo Elementary and Jefferson Elementary. It would also deal with air quality improvement needs at Eisenhower, Jefferson and McDonald elementaries.
The total cost for the projects is estimated at $6,055,975 and the tax override would generate approximately $5,503,925 over five years. The difference of about $552,000 would come from the building fund, Simpson said.
“The levy override will be 4½ cents per $100 of valuation,” Simpson said. “Statutorily, the override can only be for five years.”
The bonds used to pay for the high school’s construction are about to be paid off, so the levy override would not increase the school district’s property tax rate.
Bernice Ziegler of North Platte voiced her opposition to the override.
“I’ve prepared a (few notes) of how people feel who have paid for 17 years to build a new high school,” Ziegler said. “We paid for the high school, we should be overjoyed.”
She said the safety and security needs have already been addressed by a “very competent safety committee,” and if the requirements the committee set were followed, the schools are safe.
Simpson was asked if the numbers took into account growth in valuations.
“I calculated it at a 2% increase per year over the five years,” Simpson said.
Greg Renner, a Lincoln County resident, said that was basically the rate of inflation and Simpson concurred.
“If the district is planning to get this through, are they planning any cost offsets if you can’t get that much?” Renner asked. “Do you have a place where you can save money to spend the difference on this?”
Simpson said there are no other revenue sources the district can generate at this time.
“The depreciation fund, we can only do replacement of capital items, not a building project,” Simpson said. “So it boils down to the special (building) fund.”
Renner said he is originally from Kearney and compared the two towns, although he knows they’re not the same.
“I remember 17 years ago when North Platte pushed the bond for the new high school,” Renner said. “A lot of people were against it, but I try to be pretty conservative.”
He said the high school cost $25 million and some blunders were made on it.
“But there is on everything,” Renner said. “The nice thing is, we haven’t outgrown it, so we haven’t had to put additions on it. Kearney built a new high school ... and they’re already putting additions on the high school two years after it was built.”
Kearney voters approved a $68 million bond issue in 2013 for the new high school.
“For me, on the outside looking in, I don’t have any kids in the North Platte school district, but I pay taxes here,” Renner said. “I’m kind of glad that the bond is essentially paid off.”
Renner said he was glad that the district hasn’t had “bond after bond after bond.”
“I hate saying it, but 4½ cents is not that much money in my mind,” Renner said. “I would love to get a break on my taxes, but I also think we need to do everything for the kids’ sake. That’s my honest opinion.”
The next public forum is scheduled for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Platte High School in the Performing Arts Center, 1220 W. Second St.