Superintendent says levies would not change property tax rates

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FARMINGTON — Farmington voters will go to the polls on Feb. 6 to decide whether to replace the traditional technology bonds with a six-year levy.

The Farmington Municipal School District currently pays for technology using what it called “ed tech notes,” a two-year bond that funds schools’ one-to-one laptop programs, safety and security systems, cameras and video surveillance, and communications systems, according to Superintendent Eugene Schmidt.

Voters will decide whether to switch from the bond funding to a 2-mill levy. The switch would eliminate interest as taxpayers would "pay as you go," but it would not change the rate taxpayers are paying for school technology, Schmidt said.

“It’s not an increase in tax,” Schmidt said. “Even though we’re shifting from an ed tech bond to a mill levy, people’s taxes will stay the same, so people won’t feel differently at home. … I don’t want to call it painless, but it’s going to be seamless.”

Voters will also decide whether to continue a 2.25-mill levy that funds building renovations and maintenance to continue work on school buildings in order to extend their life.

“We won’t have another bond until 2021, so this is that lifeblood that we will use to keep our schools, if I can say, flowing for the next five years while we wait for the community to vote on the next bond,” Schmidt said.

The district's chief of operations, Ted Lasiewicz, said the district did an audit of its school buildings and found that there was “basically $100 million worth of needs in the district” in terms of building renovations and maintenance. Voters approved a $26 million bond in February 2017 that funds major projects like renovations at Country Club and McCormick elementary schools, as well as smaller projects — like HVAC improvements, roof repairs, playground upgrades, and installation of digitally controlled thermostats — for other schools.

The levy funding would continue similar small projects, and Schmidt said all schools will benefit from the levy funding.

If approved, the technology levy will be phased in, as the district will pay off the most recent ed tech note bond in 2019, according to district chief financial officer Randy Bondow.

“For the 2-mill that we have (regarding school improvements and maintenance), it runs around $3 million per year,” Bondow said. “The new one — HB33 (regarding technology) — has got a higher rate set on it, but it’s going to have to start out lower. We’ll adjust it down lower as we pay ed tech notes off to keep the tax rate flat. We’ll probably start out only pulling in about $2 million a year, then it’ll ramp up to about $3.3 million over three, four years.”

If voters reject the 2.25-mill levy, the district would have to pull funding for building improvement and repairs from the general operation budget, which could affect class sizes or other programs within the district, Schmidt said. If they reject the 2-mill levy, the school board would likely consider taking out another ed tech notes bond to pay for technology, Bondow said.

The polls are open for early voters through 5 p.m. on Friday. Early votes can only be cast at the San Juan County Clerk’s Office at 100 S. Oliver Drive, Suite 200 in Aztec.

The special election polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at three locations in Farmington — the Farmington Municipal School District central office, the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park and the Sycamore Park Community Center — and at the San Juan County Clerk’s Office.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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