District to ask voters for funding

NLR construction tax increase OK’d for November ballot

The North Little Rock School Board voted 6-0 Thursday to ask voters at a Nov. 5 election to approve a 4-mill property tax increase to pay for a replacement middle school, a new indoor sports facility and the demolition of some older district and city buildings.

In addition to a $68 million middle school to replace the current middle school campus and an $18 million sports facility, the capital improvement plan envisions spending at least $30 million to repair and renovate the landmark Ole Main building -- up from $13 million that was initially proposed.

If approved by voters, the district's 48.3-mill property tax rate in the 8,000-student district will increase to 52.3 mills.

The possible increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $80 a year in school district taxes. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $160, if a 4-mill tax increase is approved.

A mill is one-tenth of 1 cent. One mill levied on an assessed value of $1,000 yields $1 in property taxes due. Arkansas counties assess property at 20% of actual value. The assessed value of a $100,000 house is $20,000. That $20,000 multiplied by 0.004 or 4 mills would generate an $80 tax increase.

The four new mills would produce $51,832,478, which would be combined with $44.8 million from other sources. Those additional sources include the district's building fund, savings from refinanced interest rates on bonds and $20,871,050 from the state's Academic Facilities Partnership Program.

That total $96,675,589 would cover the campus for grades six through eight, and the indoor sports facility next to the North Little Rock High School. There would also be funds for demolition costs and for contingencies.

The $30 million for improvements to the Ole Main building would not be conditioned on receiving state Academic Partnership money. However, if the project attains state approval, there is the potential for as much as $10 million more for the work, Brian Brown, the district's chief financial officer told the board.

"This puts us in the best scenario," Superintendent Gregory Pilewski said. "We are going to do something with Ole Main. Now if we get some additional state Partnership Program money, great, but it does allow us -- if the millage passes -- $30 million to invest in Ole Main."

Scott Beardsley, financial advisor to the board, said the district can generate the $30 million for the historic building by selling bonds and "back-end loading" the debt service payments for those bonds after previously issued bonds are paid off. The payments on the newer bonds will be greater in the later years than initially.

Board member Valerie McLean said she was excited about the prospect of funding for the Ole Main renovation.

"The community has been waiting for this moment so I hope they will get out and support this millage," she said. "Of course I'm excited about the middle school and the athletic facility."

"Amen," Pilewski responded and noted that the capital construction plan was two years in the making and included community conversations.

"We all like how we got here," he said. "There is something here for all of our constituents to get behind."

The district is under some time pressure to ask voters for the millage increase for the long-discussed middle school replacement.

The district is approved for $20.8 million in state aid for the project but it must have signed construction contracts for the project by January 2025 or face having the money pulled back and distributed to projects in other districts, Brown said. The state gives districts 18 months between approval of state funding and getting signed contracts.

The North Little Rock district built new or extensively renovated its elementary schools and the high school in what started out as a $265.5 million capital improvement program.

District voters at a special election on Feb. 14, 2012, had voted for a 7.4-mill property tax increase to finance construction. That was on top of plans to cut expenses in other aspects of the district's operations.

The district intended at the time to include the building of a new middle school campus -- which is made up of the former Northeast High and Lakewood Middle Schools -- as well as make the Ole Main high school building functional, but in the end didn't have adequate local and state resources to follow through.

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