The bill is asking for a 1/4 percent sales tax increase in Washoe County and $0.05 per $100 of assessed property tax in order to provide about $20 million in capital funding for building upkeep, overdue repairs and replacements and avoiding the depletion of current district funds in other departments.
“We estimate the need of about $85 million for heating system replacement over the next 10 years, and that’s in all of the older schools,” Mark Stanton, Chief Capital Projects and Facilities Management officer, said inside Reno High School Tuesday. “As they age they wear out and need to be replaced. Without a reliable revenue source to do that it doesn’t get done so consequently you have to take money from somewhere else to do that because it has to be done. You can’t have a building like this when it is 10 degrees outside with its heating system not working.”
Twenty-five percent of WCSD’s 93 schools are more than 50 years old and another 60 percent are 30 years old. The district currently holds $511 million in its capital needs fund and would use the annual $20 million from AB 46 to “protect the community’s investment by repairing and maintaining schools,” according to a press release. The release added that the University of Nevada, Reno’s Center for Regional Studies estimates the increase to cost families $8 per month.
“This revenue source is very specific and some have asked why we don't ask for a bigger tax increase and we said we want to be responsible,” WCSD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said. “We know our community is still struggling and we know the economy is still stabilizing. At $8 a month we are trying to be reasonable. This is the minimum that we need and, again, if we have this money we can keep up with all the repairs we are going to have to make each year for the next five years.”
Martinez said a lack of revenue and resources to fund major heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing problems almost delayed some schools from opening after winter break due to frozen pipes and boiler malfunction. He said those problems will only compound and drain the resources of other projects to ensure campuses remain safe.
“The problem we are going to have when we get to 2018 and 2020, when we go for the big rollover bond for a couple hundred million dollars, by the time we get there if I have these revenues then I can maintain the buildings we have right now,” Martinez said. “If I don't that means that money will be all used up on these fixes that are going to be required. I am getting more phone calls than ever before about making sure our schools are secure, whether it’s fencing, single point of entry or changing lock systems and those issues are not going to change. That is always going to be a priority for us.”
Martinez said Spanish Springs High School, and its flourishing area, provides proof of eventual growth that will battle current strategies to keep the school from crowding.
“I know that in the east we are going to need more schools. Spanish Springs is our largest high school and we are adding more portable classrooms there every year,” he said. “We did a rezoning with the elementary schools because of the overcrowding and I have the same issues in the south and north.
"Our district is slowly starting to grow again and by the time we get 2018 and 2020 I am worried that if we don’t have this revenue source I am not going to have any money for new schools or to invest in new technology. I want our children to be competitive, not at a disadvantage.”
In examining Reno High, one of the area’s oldest high schools, he said improvements needed there can be seen across the district. He cited Sparks High School and Lena Juniper Elementary School as two of the most-needy schools in Sparks, in terms of building repairs.
“Our greatest need dollar wise and probably the most important because it impacts the thermal comfort inside of a classroom and that’s the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems,” Stanton said. “I would say it is equal across the board, however if you look at our new schools we built in the Spanish Springs area those schools won't need those system replacements probably for another 10 or 15 years. But, in terms of old schools you’ve got Sparks High School, which is the same age as Reno High School. We just replaced the windows and boilers at Sparks High School.”
In the event AB 46 does not get passed during the Nevada Legislative Session, Stanton said his team will begin prioritizing projects and planning to spend whatever funds are available on the “highest priority item.” Martinez said he hopes the confidence instilled in the district’s proposition by The Chamber and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) will alert the public of its desperate need for funding.
“Our business leaders don’t like taxes, and they are looking out for their members,” Martinez said. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is having a business-friendly environment because of our low taxes. But even they have said when they look at all of our data, which we are transparent about by having it all on our website, (business leaders) say there is no way they can back away from this. I think that shows the support we have in the district and I think it shows how obvious the need is.
"It is a long shot for us. I know that and I am not naive about it, but I also know that it is important that our community understands just how drastic the need is to keep our children warm, safe and dry. Eight dollars a month is not that much, and I know we are going to have opposition, and we are happy to have those conversations. I don’t mind and that is what is great about our community is we can have debates and we can explain why we need these resources so badly.”