Education

No tax hike in Rock Hill $110M school bond referendum

Dwayne Gaston of the maintenance staff at Sullivan Middle School points to the cloudy windows, caused by cracks in the seals between the two panes of glass. The proposed bond package calls for money to replace windows at Sullivan Middle and other schools.
Dwayne Gaston of the maintenance staff at Sullivan Middle School points to the cloudy windows, caused by cracks in the seals between the two panes of glass. The proposed bond package calls for money to replace windows at Sullivan Middle and other schools. dworthington@heraldonline.com

Unlike recent bond referendums in other York County school districts, if voters in Rock Hill approve the borrowing of $110 million Tuesday, no tax increase will be necessary.

The district is asking for voter approval to borrow $110 million to fund dozens of capital improvement projects across the district to renovate, repair and modernize existing buildings.

The district may also issue an additional $25 million in bonds, but because that’s within the district’s “8 percent money,” or within 8 percent of the district’s assessed value, no voter approval is needed.

But even if up to $135 million is borrowed to fund district projects, there still won’t be a tax increase.

“There’s no tax increase because we have structured our debt so that we can borrow money by paying off bonds as we go along and refinance our bonds so we can continue to borrow over time,” Bilton said.

It’s all the result of very careful long-term planning, she said.

And while it may seem strange that the district can have such a large debt and continue to accrue more even as other debts are paid off, Bilton said that’s how it’s done for schools and other government bodies.

“It’s like buying a house,” she said. “No one has that much money at one time.”

Capital projects, like the ones these bonds could finance, like new roofs or remodels of cafeterias or even a new elementary school, require a lot of money, money that is dedicated for other things on a daily basis, like salaries and supplies.

Without borrowing money, there are no schools, Bilton said.

“As long as we are conservative stewards of our debt service funds, all districts have to borrow money for those large dollar needs,” she said.

To assist Bilton and her staff, the district employs a financial adviser and a bond attorney to advise on such issues and has an annual audit for additional oversight.

Bilton said it was also important to note that the district will not be acquiring this debt all at once. As the district works through the list of needs covered under the referendum, they’ll pick the most urgent needs and best funding opportunities to judiciously acquire the debt necessary to complete the projects.

And, the district may not need the full $110 million under the bond referendum or additional $25 million. If projects come in under budget or aren’t needed, as may be the case with a proposed Riverwalk-area elementary school, the district won’t borrow that money.

Any registered voter living in the Rock Hill school district is permitted to cast a ballot at their usual polling place Tuesday.

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