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LOB ballots coming to a mailbox near you soon

6/10/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

The Hays USD 489 local option budget ballots are in the mail -- all 13,642 of them.

Ballots are being mailed to all active qualified voters of the school district, said Donna Maskus, Ellis County clerk.

Envelopes were stuffed Monday with three pieces -- a ballot, an instruction sheet and a postage-paid return envelope -- at Northwestern Printers. They will be mailed today.

The mail star machine can process as many as 7,000 envelopes an hour if only one item is inserted, said Samantha Lowry, Northwestern Printers mailing clerk.

With three pieces inserted for the mail ballots, Lowry estimated it would handle approximately 5,500 envelopes an hour.

A sensor on the machine alerts the operator when more than one item is put in an envelope or an envelope is skipped.

Maskus sent a list to Lowry of those receiving the ballots, and Lowry sent the list through mailing software that reconciled addresses with the U.S. Postal Service database to "make sure every address we're sending to is a good and valid address," Lowry said.

The mail is presorted, "so that's going to help our process very much," Maskus said.

The school district is asking voters to approve increasing the LOB 1 percent to 31 percent.

Currently, the LOB is estimated to raise $5,951,709 for the district; an additional 1 percent would raise approximately $198,175.

Based on the recent school finance law passed by the state Legislature, the mill levy would go down 0.54 mills, Superintendent Dean Katt said.

If the LOB mill levy goes down, property taxes on a $100,000 home in the USD 489 district would decrease by $62.10 for the year.

"What we're asking then in our LOB election is to go to 31 percent," Katt said.

"If we go to 31 percent, we will not see the tax decrease, and for a $100,000 home, they would see a yearly increase of $2.30 instead," Tracy Kaiser, executive director of finances and support services, said in an earlier interview.

If the 1-percent increase is approved by voters, the finance law included a provision that would allow the board of education to raise the LOB to 33 percent by vote of the board for one year before seeking needed approval by the voters to keep it at that level.

"For every percent we raise, it would be (an additional) $65.55 per year on a $100,000 home," Kaiser said.

Beginning with the base increase of $2.30 for 31 percent if approved, an increase to 32 percent would mean a property tax increase of $67.85, and $133.40 more a year for a $100,000 home if the LOB is 33 percent.

A 3-percent increase in the LOB would add $594,525 to the district budget.

Consensus of the board last month was if the 1-percent increase passes, it would approve the raise to 33 percent. After the first year, the additional 2-percent increase would have to go to a vote.

The board also agreed reducing class sizes was a priority, and any increase approved by voters should be used for that. However, money from the additional 2-percent, which can be approved by the board for only one year, shouldn't be used for ongoing expenses such as teachers' salaries, the board said. It could be used for contingency reserves.

Hays-NEA as an organization supports the LOB increase, and members will be encouraging their families and friends to vote for it, said Kim Schneweis, H-NEA president.

"I hope people will support it and the board will use the money as they've indicated," she said.

State legislators are pushing funding back to the local level, she said.

"Increasing the LOB is a way for the community to support the quality (education) we've become accustomed to," Schneweis said.

People expect smaller class sizes, "and you have to pay for it."

Completed ballots can be mailed in the return envelope or delivered to the clerk's office. They must be received in the clerk's office no later than noon June 27.

Anyone who didn't receive a ballot can call the county clerk's office at (785) 628-9410.

It's important voters sign in the marked space and list their addresses before returning the ballot, Maskus said.

"If they don't do that, we have to contact them," she said. "We cannot process the ballot until those two situations are met."

When the ballots are returned to the clerk's office, they check the signature, then put the ballot in the ballot box.

"The secrecy of the voter is utmost in the process," Maskus said.

Estimated cost of the mail-in election to the school district is $20,000, and the money likely will come from the general or supplemental funds, Katt said.

The last mail ballot election in Ellis County was a retail sales tax question in 1997, Maskus said. Voter turnout was 77 percent.

USD 489 voters went to the polls April 7, 2009, to vote on a 1-percent increase in the LOB for two years for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. The additional money was to be used for student instruction. The measure failed by a vote of 2,143 to 1,069, Maskus said.