Assembly bill to fund Washoe County school projects passes first hurdle
Special to the Bonanza
A Nevada bill that would raise taxes for Washoe County residents should be approved by legislators this spring because it will provide public schools with much-needed annual capital project funding.
That’s the message Washoe County School District Pedro Martinez relayed to a crowd of fewer than 10 residents during a town hall meeting Wednesday, April 10, regarding the district’s looming $32 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year.
The meeting — held at the D.W. Reynolds Center during Incline public schools’ spring break — was one of a series of budget presentations taking place throughout the district as the in-session Nevada Legislature considers school funding.
Assembly Bill 46, which would fund Washoe school construction, repair and maintenance projects, passed its first hurdle April 9, as the Assembly Taxation Committee voted to send the bill on to the Assembly. In order for AB 46 to pass, it would have to be approved by the Assembly and the Senate by a 2/3 vote, and then be approved by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
AB 46 would provide approximately $20 million a year for major WCSD capital projects such as replacing school roofing, replacing failing heating and cooling systems, plumbing, and continuous building maintenance.
The Washoe County School District has 93 schools with more than 220 buildings, including more than seven million square feet of building space. The buildings include portable classrooms, central services buildings and multiple buildings at school sites, according to the district.
Sixty percent of those 93 schools are more than 30 years old Martinez said, and 25 percent are more than 50 years old.
The district hopes to use the AB 46-proposed $20 million per year to maintain schools until economic conditions allow for other funding, like future rollover bonds, Martinez said.
The bill — which has no expiration date — would generate funding by adding $.05 property tax per every $100 assessed value in the county; sales taxes would also increase by .25 percent. Martinez said passage of AB 46 would likely cost the average family approximately $8 per month.
Martinez said he is confident AB 46 will pass.
“The $20 million allows us to become proactive,” he said, later adding that if the bill doesn’t pass, “the $20 million now could double or triple in the next few years.”
Previously, capital projects were funded by a Washoe County-approved 10-year rollover bond that generated $551 million. The bond expired in November 2012, leaving no new source of capital funding. According to the school district, “because of the impact the economy has had on property values, another rollover bond would not have raised any revenue until 2018-2020.”
Aside from capital funding, the district also needs general funds for day-to-day operating costs that include teacher, administrator and employee salaries, academics, school supplies and utilities. Capital and general funds are completely separate and monies cannot be exchanged between the two, Martinez said.
Despite years of budget cuts to Nevada education, Washoe County has been prudent with its expenditures, the superintendent said, allowing it to build reserves and not increase class sizes.
But Washoe County expects to draw $32 million from reserves for the 2013-14 school year, and Martinez said the reserves will get the district by until 2015, although he hopes to have a balanced budget within the next two years.
“If the state doesn’t increase funding, we have no other opportunity to get more funding,” he said. “I’m advocating heavily in Carson City to make sure we have the resources.”
As of Monday, AB 46 sits with the Assembly Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
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