School bond measure fails

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The MFL MarMac Community School District’s bond measure for a $7.8 million facilities improvement project did not pass following a March 3 special election. Despite having more “yes” votes, at 503 (52.34 percent), than “no” votes, at 458 (47.66 percent), 60 percent approval was needed for passage of a general obligation bond.

In all, 961 people voted, which is the highest turnout MFL MarMac Superintendent Dale Crozier said he’s seen in his time with the district.

“It was very exciting to have so many people come out to vote,” he said. “It is very important for democracy in a free society for people to vote, so I applaud the community regardless of whether you voted yes or no.”

The proposed project would have included construction of a 31,000-square-foot fieldhouse on the west side of the high school building in Monona, along with an elementary school addition at the Monona Center and miscellaneous upgrades at the McGregor Center.

The measure received the majority of its support at the Monona precinct, which included the townships of Farmersburg, Wagner, Giard, Grand Meadow and Monona, as well as the cities of Farmersburg, Luana and Monona. There, 315 people were in favor, while 261 opposed it.

Results differed at the Marquette precinct, where people from the cities of Marquette and McGregor and the townships of Mendon and Clayton cast 131 “no” votes compared to 121 in favor.

District residents in Allamakee County felt much the same: 41 did not support the measure, while 33 said “yes.” Many voted via absentee ballot due to requirements that made them travel to Postville to cast their ballots in person.

Moving forward, Crozier said the district will still construct the elementary addition, including new bathrooms on the west side of the building and an improved entrance on the east side.

“It’s not like we’re building a new elementary school. It’s really small actually,” he noted.

Work on that could begin as early as this spring, while school is still in session. It would continue into fall.

“I’m going full force ahead and trying to get it going as soon as possible,” he told the school board at its March 9 meeting. “But the board will have to approve that, and bids.”

Originally slated to cost $525,000, those improvements will now likely cost more since they won’t be completed in conjunction with the rest of the proposed project, Crozier warned.

“We’ll forfeit a couple hundred thousand dollars, but that’s what the voters wanted,” he stated.

And the board still isn’t ruling out the fieldhouse. Crozier said the district could come back with another bond vote as soon as Tuesday, Dec. 8. Majority support this time around makes a strong case for trying again.

“There are many things going on right now with the farm economy, the coronavirus and general anxiety about the future with the upcoming election,” he noted. “Considering that, I think we can be proud of the 52 percent approval.”

Board member Jonathon Moser agreed.

“Most bonds that don’t pass the first time don’t have the majority,” he said.

If the district proceeds with another bond vote, both Crozier and the board acknowledged more voter outreach will be necessary.

That’s especially true of the agricultural sector, stressed board member Collin Stubbs. He felt it represented a large portion of the opposition.

“I don’t know if there’s opportunity the next time around to better educate about what the impact may look like to them specifically, or to that industry sector specifically,” he said. “I feel like they were feeling like they were going to get hit the hardest, and probably had the greatest opposition given the farm economy. It’s kind of a recipe for hard decisions.”

If the measure had passed, Crozier said it would have cost approximately $88 per $100,000 of assessed property value for residential and approximately $121 per 100 acres of average cropland.

In the coming year, Moser noted that McGregor residents might also be a hard sell, as they’ll be faced with a potential Main Street sewer project.

In general, said Crozier, people will have to be more involved in the process.

“If the community wants it, the community has got to continue to step up,” he added. “This is different because this needs a 60 percent super majority, and nothing else has ever needed that. This was the first time we have had a general obligation bond vote since the school was built. The rest of the construction we have had all came from the physical plant and equipment levy and from the state sales tax.”

“That may have been a wake up call—in a good way,” he continued.

As it stated before the bond vote, the board maintains the facilities project is about economic development.

“The biggest message I think people aren’t getting is that this isn’t about sports,” said Crozier. “It’s about the long-term prosperity of MFL MarMac...having the ability to be competitive with our facilities and being able to offer comparative facilities to comparative sized schools.”

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