The replacement of Karcher Middle School – portions of which date to the 1920s – accounts for $32.7 million of a $43.7 million referendum for the Burlington Area School District. (Photo by Ed Nadolski)

Tax tolerance strategy earns 55% of overall vote

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

The Burlington Area School District’s referendum, which was designed from a “tax tolerance” standpoint, resonated best with voters in the City of Burlington, an analysis of the numbers from Tuesday’s election shows.

The referendum – seeking permission to borrow up to $43.7 million for a new middle school and renovations and security upgrades at other schools – passed with 55 percent of voters approving.

That support was strongest in the city where 61 percent of voters (2,923 of 4,774) voted “yes.”

Combined with voters in the Town of Burlington, 54 percent of whom voted in favor of the referendum, the immediate Burlington area was key to the referendum’s passage.

The more rural areas of the school district – the towns of Dover, Lyons and Spring Prairie, and the Village of Rochester – actually voted against the referendum. However the margin was small and the vote totals were a relatively small percentage of the overall ballots cast.

City and Town of Burlington voters made up 71 percent of those who cast ballots in the referendum.

Voters in Lyons and Spring Prairie were least supportive of the referendum with 56 percent voting against it. In the Village of Rochester 52 percent opposed the plan and in Dover 51 percent of voters cast “no” votes.

The referendum passed on an unofficial total vote of 6,150 to 4,976.

Prior to the election, BASD Superintendent Peter Smet said the district’s approach was to build a referendum that came in below the tax threshold expressed by residents who responded to a survey last spring.

“This is a compromise solution – there’s no doubt about that,” Smet said during an interview on Nov. 1. “It’s not enough for some people and it’s too much for others.”

However, that compromise was enough to satisfy the majority of district voters.

In April 2017, voters soundly rejected all three BASD referendum questions totaling $94 million. During that process, district officials attempted to build referendums that satisfied the desires of the district’s special interest groups.

The most recent referendum also got a boost the week prior to the election when district officials announced the tax rate needed to support the 2019-20 budget will decline 13.5 percent even with the referendum debt included.

Officials attributed the decline to a higher than anticipated level of state aid and significant growth in local property value driven largely by the closing of a tax incremental financing district in the City of Burlington.