It’s been a tough budget season for Ector County taxpayers. As public hearings come to an end, the City of Odessa, Ector County, Ector County Hospital, and Odessa College have all either proposed or approved a property tax hike. Now, the school district wants a piece.
ECISD board members unanimously approved a tax increase election (known as a Tax Ratification Election, or “TRE”), in addition to a $291 million bond election for November 7. If both ballot items are approved by voters, the school district’s property tax rate will increase from $1.15 to $1.44 per $100 valuation. In other words, a home valued at $150,000 would incur a $435 markup on their property tax bill from the school district alone.
Broken down into two parts, the district’s tax rate currently includes $1.04 for maintenance and operations (“M&O”) and $.11 for interest and sinking costs (“I&S”). Revenue from I&S is used to pay off voter-approved debt, which in ECISD’s case is more than $274 million (accrued from the 2001 and 2012 bonds). A successful tax increase election in November would raise the M&O rate to the state maximum of $1.17 per $100 valuation, while a successful bond election would raise the I&S rate to $0.27 per $100 valuation – bringing the total rate to $1.44.
An advisory committee of approximately 40 community members met eight times over the course of the summer in order to form a bond proposal to take to the school board. What was brought to ECISD trustees was a bond in the amount of $287 million for seven specific projects, including life cycle improvements (such as roofing, HVAS, plumbing, and window replacements), front entry security at every school, fire and life safety upgrades at every campus, a new comprehensive high school, the conversion of Ector MS to a high school, and a new middle school to replace EMS.
Additional projects – which include the completion of girls’ locker rooms at Permian HS, weight room upgrades at Odessa HS, and bathroom renovations at Ratliff Stadium – were proposed as an add-on to the current list by board member Steve Brown. These were approved and increased the total bond amount to the current $291,172,291.
As the district kicks off their campaign to win votes for a new bond and tax increase, they may face a self-inflicted hurdle.
The $129.75 million bond passed by voters in 2012 to construct three new elementary schools and add on to Permian and Odessa high schools ended up costing far more than the amount that was approved by voters. As a result, the district used a large portion of its reserve funds to pay the difference. This has now hindered the district’s ability to use reserve funds during a downturn and has admittedly played a factor in the decision to hold a tax increase election.
The district’s management of taxpayer dollars has not gone smoothly in the past and the result of November’s two elections will likely be an indicator of whether trust has been restored or not.