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Wendy Reuer, Published October 02 2013

Wahpeton voters approve $30 million schools project

WAHPETON, N.D. – Voters here gave a bright green light to the school district when they overwhelmingly approved a nearly $30 million building project on Tuesday.

In complete but unofficial results tallied Tuesday night, voters approved the project by 88 percent, or 1,201 “yes” votes to 162 “no” votes, Superintendent Rick Jacobson reported.

Voters also gave the OK to the school district to fund the project by increasing its debt service with 84 percent of the vote in favor of doing so. Jacobson said 1,140 “yes” votes were counted over 221 “no” votes.

“They are basically unprecedented numbers,” an elated Jacobson said Tuesday night. “Usually you don’t pass by that much, and to pass by 88 percent just doesn’t happen.”

The night before the vote, the district shut down a plan by the parent-led citizen group, Vote Yes for the Kids, to give hot dogs out at the city’s polling place, the schools.

Jacobson said once the district realized the hot dogs could be construed as an attempt to influence votes, the district asked the group to shut down the plan Monday,

“We should have known it was crossing the line,” he said. “So we called it off. We weren’t going to get into that arena of potential conflicts.”

Jacobson said voter turnout was steady throughout the day, with around 300 absentee votes turned in early.

The vote authorizing the school district to raise its debt levels will not cause property taxes to increase.

The district is using an increase in state aid next year to cover its regular operating expenses. It will then lower its general fund levy but increase the debt service levy, which is the amount of taxes used to pay total debt. In other words, the proportion of taxes used to pay off debt will increase, not the overall amount of taxes collected.

The district plans to discontinue the use of Central Elementary School and build a new elementary school near the middle school.

The district plans to upgrade security and technology at its sole middle and high schools and renovate Zimmerman Elementary School, which houses kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and special education classes. Air conditioning would also be installed in the buildings.

The school board will canvass Tuesday’s election results on Monday, finalizing the results, Jacobson said.

The board hopes to move forward with design of the project as soon as possible so that construction can begin as early as April.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530