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No vote needed on Mitchell fine arts center

A music practice room is filled with instruments at the Mitchell High School Fine Arts Center. One of the main complaints of the fine arts center is the lack of storage to accommodate Mitchell’s art programs according to Chris Miller, MHS vocal director. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

There cannot be a public vote on the Mitchell School District's use of capital outlay funds to build a new fine arts center.

Not because there's no interest in a vote -- because an election is not allowed, according to state statute. The proposed $13.5 million fine arts center falls within the district's window to use capital outlay funds without being subject to public vote.

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves said the check on the state law confirmed what he believed.

"It is not a bond issue," he said. "It is a project that we're certainly capable of financing."

State law allows a school district to issue capital outlay certificates up to 1.5 percent of the district's taxable valuation without needing a public hearing or publication in the official newspaper and subsequently a district-wide vote, if referred. In 2014, the Mitchell district's total valuation was $1.09 billion, meaning the school can issue up to $16,405,664 in capital outlay certificates without needing a public vote, according to data from District Business Manager Steve Culhane.

That $16.4 million figure will go up next year, as the estimated valuation for taxes payable in 2015 is $1.19 billion. The 1.5 percent capital outlay limit is estimated at $17,854,058 for 2015.

The proposed building would seat more than 1,200 people and have room for choir, band and drama programs to practice and store their materials. An optimistic timeline would allow the building to be finished by fall 2016.

The facility would be paid for using capital outlay certificates and an existing capital outlay levy over a 20-year span at a rate of $3 per $1,000 in valuation.

The state law was checked by the district's attorney to make sure the interpretation was correct.

Capital outlay funds are available for building projects and upgrades, equipment acquisitions, or to purchase or lease land.

During a school board meeting last month, local resident Steve Sibson indicated he was interested in petitioning the issue and putting it before voters until getting the word on the legality of a possible vote.

"It's unfortunate that's the law," he said. "I don't think there would have been a problem getting the signatures."

Sibson believes the project would have a difficult time getting the support of 60 percent of the voters, which is what is needed when a district has a bond issue up for election. He said he's a supporter of the arts, but doesn't believe the district should go into debt for a facility that's mostly for entertainment.

"I just don't think that's frugal," Sibson said, adding that he believes it puts mortgages on the taxpayers of the district.

Graves said he believes the school is meeting its public obligation to make sure people know what path the district is taking with a new building.

"We're doing our due diligence to make sure the building fits what we want to do," Graves said.