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Highlighting safety concerns, Laurel School District asking voters for $3 million levy

Posted at 11:06 PM, Apr 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:49:32-04

LAUREL- Voters will soon be asked to approve a $3 million building reserve levy to address safety and security issues over the course of five years and possibly purchase land for future expansion.

“I don’t know how anybody argues with safety and security,” said Superintendent Linda Filpula.

Filpula said there are key safety issues within Laurel High School that need attention, and she’s hoping voters will agree.

For example, the high school entryway from the main parking lot is mostly glass. The hope is to use levy money to make it more secure, with keyless access cards, an intercom “buzz” system, cameras and more secure doors and locks.

Filpula said the building reserve levy is divided into an elementary school levy and a high school levy. One million dollars would be used at the high school for upgrades and deferred maintenance. The remaining $2 million woud be used to buy land for a future elementary school, among other things.

The current building reserve levy will expire at the end of June.

The high school remains one of the only buildings in the district that does not have a secure entry system to the front, an issue that carries heavy discomfort and burden for Principal Shawnda Zahara, who says the high school continues to grow with kids.

“Safety is really becoming at the forefront of every conversation that we have,” said Zahara.

As she walks through the halls of the high school, various areas of the building have antiquated systems. For one, there is no intercom system that provides communication and coverage to all areas of the building for important announcements when it comes to emergencies.

Zahara wants voters to know the levy could alleviate those concerns.

“This would give just that one extra level of security and ease,” said Zahara. “I don’t want to have to worry about my kids going to school.”

However, these proposed updates to security and safety were items already identified by the district in November of 2017. That fall, voters rejected a massive, $52.5 million bond, which included a new elementary school and improvements to all current buildings to alleviate crowding.

“The very next day, I’m like, we still have the same issues today that we had yesterday and we need to address them,” said Filpula.

Besides the total price tag, this levy proposal is also different because taxpayers’ bills will go down, regardless if it passes.

Here’s how, according to Filpula:

The tax settlement between Yellowstone County and the CHS refinery, the district’s largest taxpayer, will bring more money to the district and save taxpayers roughly $28 a year. The refinery has protested its property-tax payments for at least five years, which meant portions of their payments were placed in an escrow account until the case was resolved.

In addition, the state has increased its contributions to the district, giving local taxpayers another added savings.

Those items together will give district taxpayers roughly $46 back into their pockets for a home valued at $100,000.

The proposed levy would cost those owners of a $100,000 home $19 a year. So their net savings, based on the previous year’s taxes, would be about $27.

“Either way they’ll see a decrease. It’s the amount of decrease,” said Filpula.

Ballots will be mailed out starting April 19 and must be received back to the county elections office by May 7.

The community is also welcome to attend a question and answer session about the levy held from 5-6 p.m. on April 8 and April 22 at Graff Elementary School.