Decatur City Commission puts $75 million bond on the ballot

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 1, 2015
City Commissioners and School Board members met in a joint work session on Nov. 12, 2014 to discuss school facilities needs. File Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

City Commissioners and School Board members met in a joint work session on Nov. 12, 2014 to discuss school facilities needs. File Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur’s City Commission has approved placing a question of whether to borrow $75 million for school construction on the ballot this November.

Commissioners approved the measure at their June 1 meeting.

The ballot question will read:

YES or NO: Shall there be authorized to be issued up to $75,000,000 of City of Decatur general obligation bonds for the purpose of financing a portion of the costs of (i) acquiring, constructing and equipping new school buildings and other buildings or facilities useful or desirable in connection therewith, including, but not limited to, new elementary schools and an early childhood learning center, (ii) adding to, renovating, replacing, expanding, repairing, improving and equipping existing administrative buildings, school buildings and other buildings and facilities useful or desirable therewith, including, but not limited to, Decatur High School, Renfroe Middle School, the 4-5 Academy and other existing elementary schools, (iii) acquiring, installing and equipping portable classrooms, including the infrastructure therefor, (iv) acquiring the College Heights Early Learning Center leased by the City Schools of Decatur, (v) acquiring any property useful or desirable therefor, both real and personal, (vi) paying capitalized interest and (vii) paying expenses incident to accomplishing the foregoing?

If voters approve the request, it will increase property taxes by about 8 percent. According to an example provided by CSD, it would raise taxes on a $500,000 home by $680 per year.

Commissioners had promised School Board members they would approve the request for a bond during a work session about the system’s facility needs. City Commissioners and School Board members have held multiple joint meetings since 2013, when commissioners declined to put a referendum on the ballot that would’ve allowed the system to borrow $59 million. At the time, Mayor Jim Baskett said at the time there was concern the bond referendum might not pass. In the intervening months, School Board members have received numerous presentations on the facilities enrollment needs and the system has held public input sessions on the system’s plans to expand Renfroe Middle and Decatur High.

Prior to the vote on Monday, June 1, 2015, Baskett said the city trusts the school system’s enrollment projections and its stated need for more facilities, including a new elementary school.

“This is a matter for the people of Decatur to decide in a vote in a referendum of November, and the School Board has the knowledge and understanding of their needs that are beyond my knowledge and understanding and I am willing to allow them the opportunity to ask for that vote,” Baskett said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Dan. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I spoke to an experienced Decatur real estate agent who told me that the tax figure you quoted is incorrect. This agent said that taxes for the average home in Decatur would increase from between $1,000 and $1,500. Since there will be no organized opposition, Decatur voters will have to decide if trusting the supporters of the referendum and their claim of a small increase in taxes is more reliable than the record of the board of education and superintendent over the past twelve years. I fear that the referendum will easily pass, taxes will increase dramatically, older residents on fixed incomes and single people with no kids will sell their homes and in five years, when the board (and commissioners) are confronted with the drastic changes in Decatur caused by the referendum, they will use the same excuse made not long ago, “The consultants provided us with this information”.

  • LMJ

    Thanks, Dan. I think the quote in the last paragraph is strange. After several joint sessions between the school board and commissioners, the mayor of our vibrant city states the needs of the school system are beyond his understanding? Was that his way of saying he will “allow” it but withold his support, citing lack of understanding of the key issues our city faces? Perhaps I’m lacking context.

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