Eastern New Mexico schools place bonds on November ballot

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NEW MEXICO (KAMR/KCIT) — In the upcoming November election, residents of numerous school districts throughout the eastern New Mexico region will be able to make the decision on various bond elections, deciding whether or not their respective districts would be able to make improvements in the future. 

MyHighPlains.com spoke to officials from two districts in the eastern New Mexico region to see how they would use the bond funds if passed and how it would impact the taxpayer. 

Des Moines Municipal Schools 

After approximately seven years of issues and subsequent studies, officials with the Des Moines Municipal School District are bringing a $2.1 million bond to the voters in the November election for the purpose of “erecting, remodeling, making additions to and furnishing school buildings.” 

Through this bond, the district would move all its grade levels, Pre-K through 12th grade, into a single building. Damon Brown, the school board president for the district, said this was the recommendation that came from multiple entities which did studies on the district’s current buildings. 

“Having a new building that’s more appropriate for our climate, frankly, (is important). The building that we have now is very difficult to heat and it’s very difficult to keep maintained in our part of the world,” he said. “The new construction will take all that into account and it will be more efficient, energy consumption-wise, to heat and cool, as well as to maintain.”

The new building would provide savings in maintenance costs for this new building, which would be smaller and more appropriate for the district’s current enrollment, Brown said. This also helps the district get ahead of potential health and safety situations that could come if the bond does not pass. 

Kodi Sumpter, the superintendent for the district, said the building serves as a centerpiece for the community, as well as the education hub. It is important to them for the community to have a voice in the process.

“We want their voice in it,” she said. “That’s really, really important to us, that the community voice is heard.”

Brown said this election is the way for voters to be able to participate in their ownership of the school district. 

“You know, this is our community’s building. It’s our community’s school,” he said. “We, as the board, are their spokespeople, but this is theirs. They need to vote their conscience on this and to participate in that process.”

Dora Consolidated Schools

For the Dora Consolidated School District, a new industry moving in the district’s boundaries is giving officials the chance to make campus improvements through a bond election with no additional impact to the taxpayers, even if the bond is approved by voters. 

According to a flyer provided to MyHighPlains.com by the district, the preliminary assessed property value of Dora Consolidated Schools is expected to increase 226% after the addition of the Sagamore Wind Farm within the district. 

The Sagamore Wind Farm project in Roosevelt County, operated by Xcel Energy, was completed in December 2020 and is expected to serve more than 190,000 homes in the area and employ 20 to 30 full-time jobs to continue operations on the wind farm, according to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com. 

Because of the preliminary increase of assessed property value within the district, Brandon Hays, the superintendent for Dora Consolidated Schools, said the district was able to put a $3.5 million bond on the November ballot, not impacting the $7.98 tax rate for residents if passed. The addition of the industry to the area will not financially benefit the district unless the district goes out for a bond, Hays stressed. 

“The goal is to continue serving future generations of Dora students by maintaining and enhancing our current facilities,” the flyer from the district reads. “…Wind towers have a 20-year life span and begin to depreciate after the first few initial years quickly. This is why passing a bond at the beginning of their life span is essential to maximize the bond amount without increasing current citizens’ tax rates.” 

This bond will give the district the opportunity to conduct “several large projects” which need to be completed to keep the school operational for the next 16 to 20 years, Hays said. 

“Those include all new HVAC systems across the entire district. They’ve all aged out,” he said. “Our roof has got about four more years of usable life across the whole district so we are looking at putting a coating over the existing roof and getting an additional 20-year warranty out of that. We’ve got a lot of parking lot issues, potholes and so forth, cracks coming apart, drainage issues, that we’re looking at addressing.” 

To ensure the taxes do not increase for residents of the district, Hays said the district has decided to split the bond into two parts if passed. That initial $2.5 million would cover the necessary large projects. The additional $1 million would be added if taxes would not increase for residents. The addition would cover more parking, new baseball lights as well as other ADA and bathroom improvements. 

This bond election for campus improvements could make or break Dora Consolidated Schools, Hays said, giving the district the opportunity to use the funds which would be used for operational expenses for the district’s students in the future. 

“For a small school, or a small village even, a school is vital to our community. I’m not going to say that if we don’t pass the bond, we’re going to lose our school. But having a nice school keeps a lot of our kids coming to Dora,” Hays said. “We are actually 70% transfer from outside of our district and so it is important that we keep our school up and running and operating and looking nice so that we keep having kids in the building… The school is so central to the community: ballgames, events. To me, that is one of the biggest reasons to vote on it, so that we don’t become like some of these other school districts that have lost their school, and then their communities dry up.” 

Capital Improvement Tax

Numerous districts within New Mexico will also have a measure related to a school capital improvement tax on November’s election ballot. Some of the districts that are scheduled to have this measure on the ballot include: 

  • Portales Municipal Schools; 
  • Dora Municipal Schools; 
  • Elda Municipal Schools; 
  • House Municipal Schools; 
  • San Jon Municipal Schools; 
  • Logan Municipal Schools; 
  • Melrose Municipal Schools; 
  • Grady Municipal Schools; 
  • Des Moines Municipal Schools; 
  • Clayton Municipal Schools; 
  • Springer Municipal Schools. 

Hays said this capital improvements tax was previously granted to school districts by the implementation of Senate Bill Nine by the New Mexico State Legislature. This $2 million levy tax, which is currently in effect, is $2 per every $1,000 net taxable value of property. Every six years, the state has to go back to the voters and renew the tax. 

If this measure is not renewed, Hays said the state of New Mexico would not contribute a match to a district’s capital improvement funds. In the case of Dora Consolidated Schools, the district’s tax rate would stay the same at $7.98. 

“The state and our funding formula does not give us money for, you know, maintenance of our buildings and so this tax allows us to fund our maintenance, our repairs, our basic small improvements,” he said. 

Since this measure is on the backside of the ballot, Hays encouraged individuals to flip the ballot over to vote on the Capital Improvement Tax item. 

For more election coverage for other communities throughout the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico, visit MyHighPlains.com.

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