Indiana

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Hoping For More Property Tax Dollars, Some Indiana Districts Will Pay For Their Own Special Elections

Muncie Central High School.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Muncie Community Schools — the district that oversees Central High School — will pay for a special election this November. It's normally an off-year for elections, but district officials say they can't wait until May 2014 to ask voters for more operating money.

School districts in four Indiana communities will ask voters to raise their property taxes for the benefit of the schools this November.

But there are no other questions on the ballot these four communities — Goshen, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Muncie — so the school districts themselves will have to pay the costs of holding special elections.

That will cost these districts thousands of dollars each, but could bring in millions in new revenues for their schools if voters say yes. Officials in these districts say they simply can’t wait until the next regularly-scheduled local election to ask voters for the money.

“It’s too late for us to wait until May,” Muncie Community Schools’ chief financial officer Mark Burkhart told The Star Press. “We stepped on the gas and said we needed to do something in November.”

“The vision of $6.5 million in additional funding [for Muncie schools] is evidently too tempting,” writes Larry Riley in The Star Press opinion pages, “hence the school board is willing to shell out the money to pay for a special election” — a cost of perhaps $40,000, when it would’ve been free to put the question on the May 2014 ballot.

But other districts are willing to meet this price tag, too.

“Normally, it’s an off-year for us,” St. Joseph County election clerk Sue Rodriguez says, because it’s the year following a presidential election. Typically, there are no statewide offices and few local questions to settle in these years.

Since 1996, Rodriguez can’t remember a special election with only a school question on the ballot. But this year, School City of Mishawaka will pay to put a $28 million construction question before voters. (Rodriguez doesn’t know how much it will cost yet.)

Goshen Community Schools will also front the $58,000 cost of holding a special election in Elkhart County. They hope voters will fund nearly $17.2 million in construction and renovation projects.

Chief Deputy Clerk Christopher Anderson tells StateImpact election officials in Elkhart County can’t recall a school district calling for a special election in an off-year in the past three decades.

“I think this is going to become more and more common, I have a feeling,” Anderson says, citing the impact of constitutionally-mandated tax caps, which have limited the amount county residents must pay in property taxes while also kinking a key funding stream for schools and other local government entities.

Michigan City Area Schools — trying to avoid school closures and other last-ditch cuts by passing an operating referendum — will pay more than $25,000 for a special election, LaPorte County clerk Lynne Spevak says.

The Star Press quoted Delaware County clerk Steve Craycraft as saying a one-question ballot in a November election “doesn’t make sense.”

As we’ve noted, some state lawmakers have broached the possibility of limiting school referendum questions to general elections. Turnout in local and primary elections is normally lower than November elections.

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