Gilmer Independent School District will be asking taxpayers to assume a hefty amount of bond debt in the upcoming May 5 election. The $35.25 million for which the district is seeking voter approval is projected to raise property taxes 20 percent.

A committee has been putting together a proposal for several months for a long term construction and renovation plan. The largest project is the proposed construction of a new high school, which would include a Career and Technology Education building as well.

Other projects in the plan mostly have to do with the renovation or repurposing of current facilities, and long-term maintenance. Short-term projects include the demolition and replacement of the Bruce Building, drainage improvements, and rerouting elementary bus traffic. More long-term projects include repaving the elementary school parking lot, replacing the portable buildings at Gilmer Intermediate, and air conditioner and roof maintenance.

The only projects that have been approved by the Gilmer ISD school board to be placed on the 2018 ballot are the new high school and Career and Technology Education building.

However, the exorbitant amount of money already being paid by the taxpayers of Gilmer ISD has raised questions about the board’s fiscal responsibility. Currently, Upshur County, where Gilmer ISD is located, has the highest tax rate among its surrounding counties. Gilmer ISD’s tax rate is currently $1.22 per $100 valuation, and the proposed bond would cause the tax rate to skyrocket.

If the bond is approved, Gilmer ISD residents will see a 20 percent property tax increase.

The district is currently $16.87 million in debt, with the board having approved massive budget deficits in the past. Gilmer ISD did not run a deficit in their most recent budget, however, the deficit for the 2016-17 fiscal year was $970,000. The bonds, which will take 30 years to pay off, will increase the total debt to $73 million.

Some residents have already expressed concern about how the district has been allocating tax dollars in recent years. Bond opponents say that the Gilmer ISD 2017 financial audit reveals that millions of dollars had been taken from instruction and facilities and instead diverted to athletics, a claim that the district vehemently denies. The superintendent, Rick Albritton, is the second-highest paid superintendent in the region, raking in an $187,500 annual salary.

Early voting for the bond election will take place April 23 through the 27, and April 30 through May 1 at the Gilmer ISD Administration Building, 500 S. Trinity, Gilmer, TX 75644. Election Day voting on May 5 will take place at Gilmer High School, 850 Buffalo, Gilmer, TX 74644.

Correction: The original version of this article indicated that the planning committee’s entire recommendations were included in the bond. The new high school and Career and Technology Education building are the only projects included on this bond. This district ran a deficit in the 2016-17 budget, and it has been clarified that the district did not run a deficit in 2017-18. The district’s current debt is $16.87 million.

Reagan Reed

Reagan Reed is the East Texas Correspondent for Texas Scorecard. A homeschool graduate, he is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Thomas Edison State College. He is a Patriot Academy Alumni, and is an Empower Texans Conservative Leader Award recipient.