District officials hope reduced cost will sway voters in 2010 millage election

A year ago, Fayetteville residents were asked to approve a 4.9-mill property tax increase to help pay for the construction of a new, $113 million Fayetteville High School. More than 10,000 residents turned out at the polls, but denied the increase by a vote of 6,382 to 3,672.

Now, administrators are hopeful that a reduced-cost version of the millage, and the prospect of $31.4 million in zero-interest bonds will be enough to entice residents to vote ‘yes’ on Sept. 21. The 2.75-mill increase would fund the second phase of the new high school.

The price tag on the millage is reduced this time due to nearly $45 million in school construction bonds that the district secured for the first phase of construction after the original millage increase was denied. Fayetteville Public Schools Superintendent Vicki Thomas said that the district made $2.5 million in operational budget cuts in order to qualify for that first round of bonds.

What we have now before us is a totally different plan that’s far more cost effective and efficient.

— Superintendent Vicki Thomas

“We really listened to what the public was saying, tightened our belt, and were able to secure the revenue sources in order to do the first phase,” Thomas said.

Phase 1, which is already under construction and scheduled to be completed by Fall of 2013, will result in a new performing arts center, a student commons area which will allow for a closed campus during lunch, and a basketball gymnasium, among other improvements.

The new increase, if passed, would generate $51 million to complete Phase 2 of the project, through $31.4 million of zero-interest Qualified School Construction Bonds, as well as $19.6 million in traditional bonds. Improvements scheduled for Phase 2 include two new learning centers, a rehearsal room for music, an auxiliary gym, expansion of existing learning centers, a new media center, library, and other improvements.

Thomas said that school officials decided to ask voters for the millage increase this year because of cost-savings opportunities that the no-interest bonds, which expire in December, offered to taxpayers.

“We applied for and received the notification that we were eligible for the zero-interest Qualified School Construction Bonds in June,” Thomas said. “Because of the unique opportunity, and because of the December expiration date, we had to go back to the taxpayers and ask for the increase.”

Mailers sent out by SMART Fayetteville

FPS estimates the impact of the 2.75-mill increase on a $100,000 home would be about $4.58 per month in property taxes.

Surveys distributed by the district showed that those who voted against the millage the first time were put off by the cost of the $113 million dollar project, and Thomas said that she feels the new proposal addresses those concerns. Thomas also said that she personally read all of the more than 5,100 surveys returned.

“It was important for us to know. [The surveys] really helped us to re-look at what we were doing and try to address some of those concerns,” Thomas said. “What we have now before us is a totally different plan that’s far more cost effective and efficient.”

Thus far, the latest millage proposal has received support from the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, The Northwest Arkansas Labor Council, The Fayetteville Education Association, The Northwest Arkansas Times, and others. To date, there is no known organized opposition to the millage, though we’ve noticed a few signs around town opposing the increase.

Thomas said that while she is cautiously optimistic that voters will pass the millage this time around, she is not taking anything for granted.

“We’ve received a lot of feedback, some positive, and some not,” Thomas said. “I think I always run thinking we’re losing, because I think we have to keep focused and keep it out there. Truly, I think it is going to be really close.”

Early voting begins on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at the Washington County Courthouse. More information about the new Fayetteville High School , including FAQ’s about the millage can be found at fayar.net.

Fayetteville Millage Election Info

When is the millage election?
Sept. 21, 2010. Polls are open from 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Can I vote early?
Early voting begins Sept. 14, 2010 at the Washington County Clerk’s Office, located on the third floor of the Washington County Courthouse, 280 N. College Ave., Fayetteville, AR 72701 (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mon – Fri)
How much will it cost?
The millage increase on the table, if passed, will result in a 2.75-mill increase on your property taxes. FPS officials estimate that increase would be about $4.58 per month on a $100,000 home.
What’s it for?
The millage increase will pay for Phase 2 of the construction of the new Fayetteville High School. Phase 1 is already fully-funded with $45 million in Qualified School Construction bonds.
Why now?
In June, the district was awarded $31.4 million of zero-interest Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) that can be used for completion of Phase 2 of the new high school, but only if Fayetteville voters pass a millage increase by December 2010.