Tax issues dominate upcoming county school elections

Monday, August 25, 2003

There will be no contested races for school board seats in the upcoming school election, only millage hike requests from two of the three county districts.

This information and more was revealed at an Election Commission meeting on Tuesday when ballots were ordered for the Sept. 16 school election.

In Eureka Springs, the Board of Education is asking for a 2.45 millage increase to comply with new state mandates requiring 25 mills for maintenance and operations.

Superintendent Reck Wallis prepared for this day and transferred monies from the district's building fund into maintenance and operations ---- leaving a shortfall of only 2.45 mills, which voters will be asked to approve. If they fail to do so, the county quorum court will step in and automatically access the extra millage. Once in place, Eureka's millage will stand at 34.15.

Green Forest district patrons will be asked to approve a 1.16 mill increase for the same reason.

The district actually falls 10.88 mills short of state requirements. However, with creative restructuring of debt service mills, the school board was able to come within 1.16 mills of the requirements.

Once again, if district patrons fail to approve the request, the quorum court will impose the additional tax levy ---- but in this case it will be 10.88 instead of 1.16 mills because the debt service restructuring won't be an option.

Once imposed, Green Forest's millage rate will stand at 32.18.

Berryville patrons are spared a hike, at least for now. The board of education restructured its financing to meet the state mandate and decided to take a wait-and-see approach, letting new superintendent Michael Cox evaluate facilities requirements before asking voters for any increase.

The 31.55 mills that Berryville patrons will be asked to approve represents the same rate presently being collected.

The school election ballots will also contain the names of school board candidates, although none are challenged.

In Eureka Springs, Marvin Higginbottom, chairman of the board, is the only person who filed for the Position 4 seat that he's held for some time.

Also in Eureka, Robert H. McCormick, Jr. is the lone candidate seeking a seat recently vacated by James Clark, who moved from the district.

In Berryville, Tom Sharp, who held the Position 3 seat on the school board, elected not to seek a repeat term. No one else filed for the seat.

According to superintendent Michael Cox, Sharp has the opportunity to serve another year as a "hold over." If Sharp elects to step down, the school board will appoint someone to fill the seat until the September 2004 school election, he said.

The Green Forest Board of Education will remain the same. Brian Ayers, representing Zone 1, was unopposed in his bid for a repeat term. Also, Byron Russ, the "at-large" representative, was the lone candidate for his seat.

The filing deadline for seats was Aug. 4. School board elections will be held Sept. 16 at three county locations ---- the Methodist church in Green Forest, the Methodist church in Berryville, and the Victorian Inn in Eureka Springs.

Election Commission members agreed to order 500 Berryville school ballots, 500 Eureka Springs ballots, 250 Green Forest Zone 1, 250 Green Forest at-large; and an extra 50 ballots of each for early voters.

The commissioners also discussed "touch-screen" voting that is coming to 16 Arkansas counties in 2004 ---- and to the remainder of the state in 2006.

A "wait and see" attitude was adopted by the commission. As far as they could tell, one 'touch-screen" computer would be placed at each polling place. County Clerk Shirley Doss said the small lap-top devices weigh about 13 pounds each.

Someone suggested that perhaps a voter's signature would bring up the correct ballot. No one knew for sure how the system would work.

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