JACKSON — Jackson County Central school district residents are another step closer to heading to the polls in November.
In a 6-0 vote during its regularly scheduled Monday work session, the JCC Board of Education moved to conduct a special Nov. 5 election asking the public to support a bond not to exceed $35,415,000. If passed, a fall/winter 2021 occupancy date is anticipated.
"I think with the momentum we've got and it's still fresh on people's minds — saving possibly a million dollars — I think we go ahead," said board chairperson Rhonda Moore.
Board member Melonie Vancura did not cast a vote, as she was absent from Monday’s work session. A positive review and comment from the Minnesota Department of Education must be received before the November election. The board instructed consultants to prepare the document for submission during its July 29 meeting.
"It’s not an easy decision," new superintendent Barry Schmidt told board members. "You’re dealing with money, you’re dealing with people’s lives and dealing with the students. But I think it’s a good investment."
The board's decision to present the referendum was based on several years of investigating its facilities, which included a public task force process and public meetings. It most recently follows a district stakeholder survey, which indicates that a $35 million bond would likely have support from the majority of residents.
The favored option, which was shared during the board's July 29 meeting, closes the JCC middle school in Lakefield and absorbs those grades into a renovated Plesantview Elementary/middle school in Lakefield. Under the proposal, grades pre-kindergarten through third grade would be educated at Riverside Elementary in Jackson and grades pre-kindergarten and fourth through eighth grades at Plesantview in Lakefield.
Prior to moving forward with a November election, board members had weighed waiting until February, namely to provide adequate campaign time.
Tony Sjolander, a consultant with Kraus-Anderson, said there's plenty of time before November, as a 12-week campaign is typical. Sjolander added that Kraus-Anderson will serve as the district's temporary communications department, and will develop a facts-based campaign.
Other benefits of a November election included a savings of about $1 million in capitalized interest costs and taking occupancy approximately 10 months earlier.
According Greg Crowe of Ehlers public finance company, the financial impact on a $150,000 home —which is Jackson's average home value — is roughly $72 per year, or $6 per month.
Schmidt said the Ag2Schools tax credit will also have an impact on the referendum.
At the close of the last legislative session, the Minnesota legislature approved increasing the 40% building bond tax credit on agriculture land to 70%. The credit will increase to 50% in 2020; 55% in 2021; 60% in 2022; and will cap in 2023 at 70%.
At next year's 50% tax credit rate, 33% of the district's debt service levy will be paid by the state, Crowe reported. Once it rises to its 70% maximum, 46% of the district's debt service levy will be covered by the state.
"It's going to be at 70% for most of the life of the bonds," Crowe said
Crowe reported that the composition of taxable property in JCC school district is 9% residential homestead, 18% commercial and industrial and 73% on agriculture land, approximately half of which will be paid by the state.
Crowe said tax refunds will also be available to qualifying individuals on fixed incomes.
"With a million dollar difference and people see that ... they want us to be good stewards, so let's buckle up, let's go," Schmidt said. "We're going to do it one time or the other. ... I'm ready for the challenge."