Wednesday, February 10, 2016

TOP STORY >> Millage overcomes anti-tax opposition

 Leader senior staff writer

The margin of victory—55.1 percent to 44.8 percent—wasn’t as great as supporters expected, but the patrons in the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District on Tuesday nonetheless approved a 7.6-mill property-tax hike to help fund an $80 million school facilities construction project.

The unofficial total, gleaned from results posted at polling place doors—was 2,094 to 1,702.

Superintendent Tony Wood said he expected the increase to pass with about 70 percent of the vote, “but the important thing is it passed.”

“We’re excited and relieved,” school board president Daniel Gray said. “It was a long campaign, and now we’re ready to move forward.”

“We will see the fruits of our labor immediately,” Gray said.

One reason the group that worked toward passing the millage increase expected a greater margin of victory was the approval by the same voters of starting their own district with a 95 percent vote in 2014.

Gray said he thought there was a lot of anti-tax sentiment in the Bayou Meto area, regardless of the issue.

Early and absentee votes were posted first, with 819 votes for and 420 votes against.

That was nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The 75 people at the watch party at the community center chatted easily and happily. But the air was sucked out of the room a few minutes later, as the results from Bayou Meto Baptist Church reported 323 votes against, 73 votes for.

Voters at McArthur Church also voted against the increase, 225 to 196.

Patrons at all other polling places each approved the increase.

Gray said the new $60 million Jacksonville-North Pulaski high school should open in fall 2019.

With the tax increase approved, the district should have not only that new high school, but a new elementary school, a resurrected middle school at North Pulaski High School, and all other elementary schools will be repaired and receive a new multi-purpose building each.

Eldon Bock, principal architect with WER architects, has said his group would get to work in earnest now on the design and drawings for the new school.

The Jacksonville Education Corps, which pushed for the millage increase, issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “This commitment to investment is key to all of our future economic prosperity. Families will be attracted to our community because of our commitment to our new educational opportunities. We will finally keep our tax dollars invested within our community to provide our students with the 21st Century learning environments that they deserve.”