Indiana News

Noblesville, HSE Turn to Voters to Approve School Construction Projects

Six other referenda on Tuesday ballot in five other counties

5/6/2013

Tuesday is election day in Hamilton County and five others, as voters decide whether to authorize property tax hikes.

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The Noblesville and Hamilton Southeastern Schools are asking taxpayers to finance construction projects. Citizens' groups have formed on both sides of the proposal to expand HSE's Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers High Schools. Supporters say the $95 million project is needed to keep up with rapid population growth. Steve Manka with the opposition group HSE Helpers argues with the sluggish economy, that growth might not continue, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for new buildings.

HSE Superintendent Brian Smith says the expansion is needed to accommodate students already working their way through elementary and middle school.

Opponents also object to a quirk in the state's property tax caps. Because tax hikes approved by referendum are exempt from the caps, about a third of HSE homeowners are already above the caps due to a previous referendum, and would see taxes go up. But homeowners below the caps would see no net change, because the increase would be offset by the retirement of older debt.

Noblesville wants to expand its high school to accommodate freshmen, allowing it to transform its freshman campus into a middle school. The district has a deal in place to then sell the Noblesville East Middle School for $13 million to create a new Noblesville campus of Ivy Tech, leaving $28 million to be raised in taxes for the expansion.

Hare Chevrolet co-owner Courtney Cole has lent her voice to Educate Noblesville, the group campaigning for the referendum. She says the prospect of bringing a community college to Noblesville makes the proposal a "home run," generating jobs both directly through the college and indirectly with the students the school would train.

Elsewhere in Indiana, Knox is seeking approval for $16 million in renovations to its elementary school and central office. The district says the 38-year-old administration building is badly in need of repairs, while Knox Elementary hasn't had significant improvements since 1990.

Four school districts, three of them in northwest Indiana, are asking taxpayers for help to make up for state budget cuts. Munster says it's lost nearly 30% of its funding since 2002. Porter County's Boone and Union Township Schools and Barr-Reeve Schools in Daviess County are also seeking increases.

In the lone non-school referendum, Vincennes is seeking $3.8 million to renovate its municipal pool.

School referenda have succeeded exactly half the time since the process began in 2009, with 30 approved and 30 rejected. Of four non-school construction votes, the only one to win approval is the expansion of Wishard Health Services' Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis.

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