Midterm elections are just around the corner. And over the coming weeks, Marfa Public Radio will be bringing you coverage of local races across West Texas — from the Big Bend Region up to the Permian Basin.
On the Ballot this election for voters within the Alpine Independent School District: a roughly $20 million bond. Marfa Public Radio’s Sally Beauvais explains what’s at stake.
Carlos Morales: So we’re here, Sally, to talk about the upcoming bond election that will be on the ballot for voters in Alpine. Sally, let’s just start with the basics here. What are bond elections for?
Sally Beauvais: Bonds are a way for school districts to fund building and infrastructure-related projects for their campuses. So whether it’s just improvements to facilities that already exist, or building entirely new school campuses and buildings.
So for districts that are running out space because of increased enrollment, or districts that just have really outdated buildings — this is the typical route for a school district to fund those projects.
CM: So what’s the bond going towards in Alpine and what kind of money are we talking about here? How much?
SB: This version of the bond package that’s up for vote in November is for about $22 and a half million in total. The bulk of it would go towards a new academic building for the high school. And the line I’m hearing from teachers and administrators is that the current high school facility is just kind of a disaster. It was built in the 70s and made to have a 20-year lifespan. They’ve had fire marshall and facility reports done that say the building is out of code and just out of date.
The Classrooms are small, some only have one power outlet which really limits what kind of technology can be used in class. Many classrooms don’t have windows, and in addition to just a lack of fresh air and natural light, some of those classrooms only have one door – so that’s the only way in and out of the room in case of an emergency — that’s a fire hazard and a general safety hazard. So this 22.5 million bond would go towards a new building, with upgraded science labs, new classrooms, a new library, better security, new a/c systems, fire sprinklers, the list goes on.
CM: And so the money itself comes from taxpayers over time, right? What kind of increase could residents expect to see if this bond passes, and where exactly will they see it?
SB: It comes from property taxes. So if this bond passes, homeowners and property owners in Alpine will see an increase in what they owe for property taxes at the end of each year. And we’re talking about a 20 cent impact here — and this can be a little confusing — so that means an additional 20 cents per $100 of property value that you have.
So basically what the school has calculated is that if your home is worth $100,000 — you’ll owe about $130 more on your annual property taxes. If your home is worth $400,000 you’ll owe about $700 more in property taxes. That’s taking into account some local and homestead exemptions in Alpine.
So it just depends what the value of your home or property is. And the school district has all this broken this down in a document you can find on their website.
CM: And Sally what are the odds looking like for voters to pass this bond through? I understand the district had a similar bond package up for vote just earlier this Spring and it was voted down, but just barely.
SB: Man — you know you hear how some people don’t vote because they feel their vote doesn’t really count. That is just NOT the case in these local races in West Texas where it can literally come down to the ones and tens of votes that make a difference. So a similar bond package went up for vote in May and lost by just 60 votes. It was like 700 to 640. So it was very close.
And at that time the bond also included a new gymnasium, so the ask was bigger – the district was asking for money. This time around what I’m hearing from folks who are in favor of the bond is that they’re pretty optimistic. The voter turnout was pretty low in May, and just because this is a major midterm election, more people are inevitably going to turn up and vote. So we’ll see which way they swing.
CM: Sally, one final thing here. So for the people who oppose the bond, do they disagree that the school needs work, or is this just about where the money is coming from?
SB: Sure, I mean, I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but from the folks I’ve talked to, it sounds like in general people agree the school is in pretty dire need of some work. But for one, folks are in disagreement about how much money a renovation or a new building project should cost. One person I talked to thinks the district could do the same amount of work for about $15 million if they used different contractors. And they think that taxpayers would be spending more than they’d need to otherwise.
There’s also some talk about alternative, private models for funding or supplementing this project. So for the taxpayers who are opposed, it seems to really comes down to the money, who’s spending it, and how.
CM: Well, we’ll see who turns out for the vote in just a couple of weeks here. Early voting begins on Monday, October 22.
Sally Beauvais, thanks so much for joining us.
SB: Thank you, Carlos.