WILLCOX — Willcox property owners may soon find they have to pay higher taxes, but in return they will get greatly improved school facilities.
At the Willcox United School District board meeting last week, members voted to put up a school bond in the amount of $27 million on November’s ballot.
“That is the total of bonds that could be sold,” Willcox United School District superintendent Kevin Davis said. “The board has authorized that $27 million.”
Should the bond pass and the school board decide to sell the entirety of the $27 million, taxpayers who have property assessed at $100,000, for example, will see an increase of about $115 per year. The current tax rate is now 6.03% or $600 per year for the $100,000 property, with the greatest portion of that tax money going to public education. If the bond is approved by voters and the school board chooses to sell the total amount, that same property owner would pay 7.15% or $715 per year.
“Break that down by month, it’s not a lot of money by month,” Davis said. “It’s even less by day ... to have the facilities and the amenities that people in our community really want, like a new track and field. The only way to pay for those types of things in the way our state is funded for education is through bonds and overrides.”
If the bond is approved, the school district does not have to sell all $27 million in bonds.
“This is just an authorization to do so if the climate is right, and, of course, the public has to approve it,” Davis added.
The members of the board are all in agreement that Willcox schools all need to be upgraded.
“There is stuff that just absolutely has to be done,” board President Mark Hopkins said. “There is maintenance stuff that ends up being health and welfare and security that has to be done, no matter what.”
Board Willcox United School District Vice President Gary Clements said he agreed with Hopkins and, further, if the public will only vote for the bonds if specific projects, such as the new track and field, are stipulated, he will go along with that.
“It has to be done,” Clements said. “I’m of the point of view we go out and we do a bond, and if we have to get specific on a few things to get it passed, then so be it.”
As it stands, according to Davis’ estimate, the school district needs to spend nearly $40 million to get all facilities and equipment up to date. That would include the track and field, which needs a complete overhaul to the tune of $3 to $5 million depending on what materials are chosen. For example, a grass field is less expensive up front, but costs more in maintenance, upkeep, water and personnel.
That is just one project demanding attention, however. There are almost all the sports facilities, from the weight room to wrestling room, which leak and are too small, to the gym. Then there’s the elementary school, which at about 70 years old is the district’s oldest building. It needs $3 million to $4 million worth of work.
“It’s just so old,” Davis said. “It’s an older facility so it needs a lot of things and a lot of things haven’t been done. If you go into a classroom, it’s dark and it’s dingy, and the walls need to be fixed.”
Then there is the fact that there is no money for new buses, and that the transportation department building is falling apart.
And the list goes on.
Of major concern to Davis and the school board is safety and security.
“We’ve done a lot of things but we need to continue to do those things to harden our target, to harden our facilities so that it discourages anything happening here,” Davis said.
WUSD cannot influence an election by law, so Davis said fact sheets about the bond and what the money will be spent on will soon be posted on the administration’s website. In addition, Davis has said he will be meeting around town to explain the bond.
“I go and meet with community groups and organizations and present them the facts,” Davis said. “Here’s what the bond is, here’s how much it is, here’s what it will do to your taxes, here’s the projects that we would like to complete if you approve it.”
Davis is aware that a hike in taxes is burdensome for taxpayers but under the current law and considering the condition of the school campus, he sees this as the only way to go.
“If there was any other way that some of these things could be done, like safety and security, like our technology infrastructure, like our building and maintenance, without throwing it all on the community, I would do it, but there really is not a way to do that,” Davis said. “People always want us to do these things. Are they going to support that? If they don’t want to support that, that’s fine. That’s their decision, but then they have to realize why we’re not doing them.”
For information about the bond, call Davis — he has said community members may call him — at the school office, 520-384-8606, or visit https://www.wusd13.org/Home.