Mehlville School District voters to eye 4-cent tax transfer for facilities in April

Felton, Stormer vote ‘no’ on rescinding transportation fee

Jamey Murphy

Jamey Murphy

By Gloria Lloyd

Voters in the Mehlville School District will decide in April whether to keep paying a 4-cent facilities tax they have been funding since a 1992 bond issue.

The Board of Education last week approved placing a 4-cent no-tax-rate-increase tax transfer with a 10-year sunset clause on the ballot for the April 5 election.

Board members voted 5-1 for the ballot measure, with Lori Trakas opposed and Secretary Samantha Stormer absent.

The district will retire its remaining general-obligation bond debt this year.

But the Finance Committee recommended continuing to levy the 4-cent tax, which brings in roughly $685,000 annually, and dedicate it to replacement of roofing and HVAC systems, a fixed cost over time for which the district currently has no funds set aside. Spread over a decade, replacement and maintenance of roofs and HVAC roughly equates to the money generated by the tax, Superintendent Chris Gaines said.

Board member Jamey Murphy suggested the sunset clause, but board Vice President Larry Felton argued that since the district will always have the same costs for roofing and HVAC, it made no sense to place a deadline on the tax.

“I think having to come back to the voters in 10 years holds our feet to the fire,” Murphy said.

Although Trakas has long advocated the district replace its roofs and HVAC, she said transferring the 4-cent tax goes against the spirit of the original voters.

“It originated at a certain date with a certain commitment to the taxpayer, and I would say just honor that and let it sunset,” she said.

At board member Jean Pretto’s suggestion, the board voted to name the transfer Proposition A, for AC.

Board members last week also rescinded the bus fee they established for the current school year effective immediately, citing the success of the district’s November ballot measure Proposition R and recent favorable budget adjustments for this year.

The board voted 5-2 to stop charging the $218 bus fee midyear and refund parents who have already paid for the second semester.

Felton and Stormer were opposed.

Facing a projected $5 million deficit for this year, the board set the bus fee last year for students who live under a mile from schools because the state doesn’t reimburse the district for those bus rides.

Despite predictions the fee would bring in $150,000, it has so far brought in roughly $50,000.

“From the get-go, the thought of it made me cringe,” Pretto said. “I’m purely thinking about the safety and security of our students. Whatever the cost is to reverse this and get our kids safely to and from school again, that’s all I care about. If we can restore the buses, we should do so immediately.”

As more parents chose to drive their children to school, the fee caused traffic gridlock at some schools at the beginning of the school year. It was set to end next year. The district will not refund payments made for the first semester, but will for the second.

Mehlville’s projected $5 million deficit fell to a $2.6 million operational deficit in the fall, and board President Venki Palamand said the district’s $800,000 in health insurance savings this year makes up for eliminating the bus fee.

The board decision went against the recommendation of Gaines, who said changing course midway through the year could cost up to $30,000 in significant administrative time and create issues with public trust. Since many parents have already paid, to refund payments the district has to enter parents as vendors, a cumbersome process that Gaines estimated could cost up to $70 per check.

Acknowledging the potential administrative costs, Palamand, Pretto and Trakas said they feel so strongly about ending the bus fee that they will volunteer at Central Office to help refund checks.