Trustees discuss old school ballot
By Brent Shrum Western News Reporter
The Libby School Board is moving ahead with plans to put the fate of the old Libby High School to a public vote, but the date and form of the election remain to be determined.
In October, the board voted 4-3 in favor of mailing out ballots to determine if area residents want the district to sell the structure. A group called Friends of Historic Libby High School has offered to give the district $100,000 for the building, using funds from private investors. If the building is not sold, it would likely be razed, with the cost of demolition estimated at $100,000 before salvaging any materials.
At a meeting on Tuesday to set the agenda for the board¹s next regular meeting on Nov. 23, district superintendent Kirby Maki informed the trustees that the cost of a mail ballot is considerably higher than had been anticipated. Instead of the $3,000 to $3,500 the board had expected to pay, new estimates put the cost of a mail ballot at around $10,000, Maki said. The lower estimate is for a regular election that would require voters to come to a polling place, he said.
In light of the new cost estimates, the board is considering scrapping plans for a mail ballot and either holding a special election as early as March or waiting until the regular school election in May to put the issue to the voters.
Maki also suggested that the board may want to consider combining the election with one being planned by a group working on a proposal to build a public swimming pool in Libby. The pool group plans to ask voters in the Libby Parks District — which covers the same area as the school district — to support a levy currently projected at $1.5 million to support the project.
Combining the high school question with the pool levy could increase voter interest in both, said school board chair Teri Kelly.
³I think you¹re going to get a better turnout to vote for both issues,² she said.
But it would probably be better to not piggyback with the pool proposal if the district decides to seek its own levy in May, Kelly said.
³People aren¹t going to vote for a whole bunch of money on everything,² she said.
Maki presented the board with a draft ballot question based on an election held recently in Missoula to determine the future of one of that district¹s old schools. Trustee Jim England took issue with what he perceived to be a too-vague description of the property to be sold. The sample ballot offered a legal description as well as an explanation of the streets bordering the approximately 1.7 acres of property being considered for sale.
³You¹re asking me as an individual to vote, and I want to know what we¹re voting on,² he said.
³Missoula¹s said Œabout¹ that many acres,² Maki responded. ³It didn¹t say exactly how many acres, it said Œabout.¹²
The property would have to be surveyed before it could be sold, said trustee Christine Heinlein.
Maki added that a vote of the people in favor of selling the building doesn¹t require the district to do anything.
³The board is still going to have to make a choice,² he said.
England asked if the district is going to have the property appraised before the election. Kelly said she wouldn¹t support an appraisal at this time.
³I don¹t think we should have it appraised unless the public comes back and says sell it,² she said.
England suggested that the district could split the cost of the appraisal with the Friends of Historic Libby High School.
³What would be the point?² Kelly said. ³It wouldn¹t be something we would put on the ballot anyway.²
Friends representative Vicki Munson said the appraisal would give the group an idea of what to offer for the property as well as help voters understand the issue. She said her group would like to obtain an appraisal of the property¹s value with and without the building on it.
³To me that would give everyone more information on which to make decisions,² she said.
Munson said she has calls in to two appraisers but doesn¹t yet know what an appraisal would cost.
An appraisal wouldn¹t obligate the district to sell the property for a certain amount, Maki said. A selling price would depend on what a buyer would be willing to pay and what the board would be willing to accept, he said.
That¹s work to be done after the ballot issue is decided, not before the election, Heinlein said.
³I don¹t think that¹s useful information,² she said. ³I don¹t think it matters.²
England disagreed, saying the information would help him make a decision as a voter.
³My first question is going to be, ŒHow much are they going to get out of it,¹² he said.
Trustee Melanie Wood suggested voters might also like to know how long it would take for a new owner to renovate the building.
Once the board approves a ballot question, the draft will be given to the county attorney¹s office for a legal review, Maki said. If given the green light, the ballot would then have to be approved by the secretary of state¹s office no sooner than 60 days before the election could be held.