by LuAnn Schindler
Approximately 120 individuals attended an informal gathering at Summerland Golf Course, Oct. 6, to learn facts and figures associated with the Summerland school building project.
Tobin Buchanan, a bond analyst with First National Capital Markets, said the Summerland project, when compared to others he has worked with, is unique.
Most bond projects involve a rural community, often with a 100-year-old, three-tier building “that’s outlived its usefulness.”
“(With that scenario) you’re not realizing a ton of efficiency to the point that it’s any type of game changer,” he said.
This is not the case with the Summerland project.
Buchanan said patrons in all three districts have heard information about an initial four cent tax increase.
“Some people are hearing that number and saying it’s this much over 20 years,” he said. “You’re unique. Several other factors play in.”
Buchanan shared projections for the $34.3 million project, based on an average annual general fund growth of 4%, based on a five-year history of 20 similarly-sized school districts.
“We worked hard to make sure we’re not over projecting. We’re trying to be conservative. We’re trying everything we can to provide good data,” he said.
If the bond passes in all three communities, each site would continue to operate during the ‘20-21 school year, while the new school is under construction.
Bond structure and existing funds may be utilized to control the levy during that year.
Buchanan said another factor unique to the situation is the wording of the reorganization petition.
And, it is crucial district patrons understand wording that will appear on the ballot.
“The school attorney has indicated, because it would be three schools coming together with three different amounts of land, those original bond issuances will be reflective of how much land is being brought into the merger,” Buchanan said.
Communities will vote on a proportional amount of the overall cost.
Those amounts will be based on the percentage of the newly merged district’s valuation that each district represents, according to Buchanan.
Orchard district’s valuation for 2019-2020 totals $472,811,755, or 43%; Clearwater’s valuation is $315,693,176, or 29% and Ewing, 28% or $313,686,529.
All bonded debt will come into the new district and the bond payment will be based on the new valuation.
“Everyone in all three communities and in the new district, will have the same bond and general fund levies.”
According to Buchanan, “It’s almost a technicality that the bond numbers need to be different on the ballot."
The total project cost, divided by the three current district results in the same levy.
“Every individual taxpayer is impacted by the same levy, times what your personal value is,” Buchanan told patrons.
Ewing patrons will see a decrease in taxes with a three school merger.
The current tax levy is $0.746 with a building fund of $0.026 for a total of $0.772.
In the merged district, the general fund levy would fall to $0.516, combined with a bond fund of $0.205, totaling $0.721.
Homeowner tax liability, on a $50,000 home in Ewing, would decrease $25 per year.
Ag land owners would see savings of $2.21 per irrigated acre; $0.90 per acre on dryland quarters and $0.64 per acre on grassland.
Ewing ag land values are based on the average assessed value per acre in Holt County.
One of the biggest benefits of the combined district is the efficiency offered by creating one tax district.
Current per-pupil costs run approximately $21,000 for Clearwater and Orchard districts, while Ewing costs total $20,000 per student.
With a three-school merger, per pupil costs are projected around $15,000.
“Just right there, I think you can see the efficiency has a tremendous impact. By 2026-27, the four-cent initial net tax increase would be eliminated through efficiency,” Buchanan said.
Looking forward, potential savings may be seen yearly.
Potentially, $15 million in tax savings could be realized over the life of the bond, according to Buchanan.
Other factors that could affect the overall bond include tax credits offered by the State of Nebraska.
Overlap those amounts with efficiency and “those two factors together, in 2023-24, show the four cent initial tax impact is negated and you’re saving from that point forward,” Buchanan added.
Wind turbine dollars may also have an impact on a potential bond issue.
Turbines in the Upstream project, located northeast of Clearwater, will begin generating $85,000 per year in tax revenue, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.
A proposed wind turbine project between Clearwater and Ewing will generate $170,000 per year, starting in 2022-2023.
“With all these things in play, the initial four-cent levy we talk about never really becomes, it never really happens, because you’ve already started the next year receiving some of those windmill dollars,” Buchanan said.
Gordie Shrader, of Orchard, asked how staffing will be affected if the bond passes.
Buchanan said part of the efficiency that came out of the feasibility study, requested by all three districts, involves staffing.
Seventeen certified full-time equivalent positions and four para-professional jobs could be reduced, based on data in the study.
Administrators in the three districts have indicated some of those positions can be reduced through attrition.
“There are several people who could retire, several have had conversations about that,” Buchanan said. “I don’t think anyone could put a name to who’s impacted yet until this goes forward and you start working those processes.”
Clearwater and Orchard Superintendent Dale Martin entertained questions about the proposed facility.
After visits to new schools in Gibbon and Kearney, a visioning committee, along with the architecture firm, began putting together elements to formulate a design.
Students, business owners, parents, educators and administrators comprised the group.
The group looked at what type of classroom space was required and potential course offerings as a guide.
The multi-level building doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, according to the superintendent.
“It’s functional. It fits our needs.”
Martin said the $34.3 million is “the top figure,” and hopefully, the project comes in below that amount.
“It’s all inclusive. The building, any contents ... that’s all inclusive,” he said.
Costs could be lowered if some current equipment is relocated to the new school.
The building will be equipped with an elevator, meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
If approved, construction is expected to begin in spring 2020.