Indian River School District's Expense Referendum Passes - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Indian River School District's Expense Referendum Passes

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SUSSEX COUNTY, Del. – A second expense referendum for The Indian River School District passed Thursday night.

In what was the most-voted referendum in district history, residents voted in favor of the $7.35 million in taxpayer funds the school district was asking for. 12,489 people voted Thursday, compared to just 6,672 to the referendum that failed in November by just 30 votes.

7,095 people voted for the referendum Thursday, while 5,394 people voted against it. The district says turnout was so high that voting machines at Lord Baltimore Elementary School actually maxed out, and they were forced to use over 650 paper ballots. Interim Superintendent Mark Steele says he believes the impending state budget cuts compelled people to get out to the polls this time around and support the school district's initiative. 

"I think a lot of our parents looked at it and said 'That's gonna be a little too much to hold,'" he said.

Like last time, the district says $4.95 million will go toward student enrollment growth. But this time, they say $1.2 million would go to school safety, down from the $1.5 million the district estimated in their original referendum presentation.

In the wake of a follow up to a scathing November audit into the district's finances, Steele pledges the district will be responsible with this new money and make the most of it. 

"We'll get our budget in line where it needs to be and we will create, I'm going to say, probably the most transparent school district of anybody else in the state," Steele tells WBOC. "I just want to provide enough layers of oversight that everybody's going to be able to trust us and everybody's going to have a real good feeling about our school district."

The referendum's approval means property owners in the district will pay an additional 49 cents per every $100 of assessed property value. According to the Indian River School District, that averages out about 95 dollars more a year in taxes in the area. But Bruce Rickards of Dagsboro says he'll pay far more than that.

"On my house it'll cost me $891. I'll be paying about $7,000 in taxes there," he says. "But my chicken houses are the big problem."

Rickards says the referendum tax increase will make the tax on his chicken houses total $30,000. He says he and other owners plan to petition having to pay the tax on those properties.

"The federal government says chicken houses are considered equipment. So we shouldn't have to pay school taxes on equipment," he says. "There's going to be a little fuss about this."

Steele says the referendum's approval saved at least 200 jobs, and possibly has created even more jobs.

"It's almost like the 'big game' and at the 'big game' everybody came through for us," he says. "Everybody came through. At all the voting locations. It's phenomenal." 

For more on the referendum, visit the Indian River School District's referendum page.

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