Election Board OKs revised Manchester school question

By Joseph Slacian

The Wabash County Election Board – after deliberations among its members as well as with input from members of the public on Monday afternoon – approved a reworded referendum question related to the proposed Manchester Community Schools building and repair projects.

If the question clears all hurdles by the Aug. 1 deadline, if will appear on the November ballot for residents within the Manchester Community Schools district to vote on.

The question seeks approval from the public to proceed with a renovation and building project that seeks to improve the entrances at Manchester Intermediate and Manchester Elementary schools, as well as to construct a fieldhouse between Manchester High and Manchester Jr. High schools.

The election board approved the question initially in June. However, the question didn’t specifically list the fieldhouse.

Rather, it said the project would include “safety and security projects at several facilities and projects to provide more opportunities for co-curricular and extra-curricular programs …”

Opponents to the project believe the fieldhouse should have been listed and, after complaining to the MCS board, the board submitted a rewritten question to include the field house.

The revised question reads: “Shall the Manchester Community Schools, Wabash County, Indiana, issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance the 2019 Manchester Community Schools Safety and Facility Improvement Project which includes safety and security improvement projects at several facilities and projects to provide more opportunities for co-curricular and extra-curricular programs, including, but not limited to, an expansion to existing facilities to provide for a fieldhouse connecting the Squire Academy and the Junior/Senior High School, and which is estimated to cost not more than $16,660,000 and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by $0.3885 per $100 of assessed value.”

However, three remonstrators believe the question still doesn’t go far enough.

Dave Terflinger, one of those present at Monday’s meeting, believes that the question is misleading because it only lists the approximate cost of the work, and not an estimated $10.5 million in interest rates that will accompany the loan.

“This whole thing looks like it’s kind of disguised as to what the true question is,” he said. “In the predetermination hearing financial it says $10 million in interest, yet in this question it says not to exceed $16.6 (million). Well, $16.6 and $10 is $26.6 (million), not $16.6. If we’re going to put the price on the ballot, we should have the true costs, I think.

“The taxpayers have a right to know what they’re really going to pay, not what the project is going to cost; not what the construction and bond cost is, but what the total cost is.”

To make the question accurate, the remonstrators said, the total amount, around $26 million, should be included in the question.

However, Wabash County Clerk Elaine Martin noted that the board’s sole responsibility in the matter is to make sure the question, as written, meets state statute. Once that is done, the question is sent to the Department of Local Government

Finance (DLGF), which reviews it. That agency, she said, could require the change.

“Statutorily, we as an election board, have no right to require a change in the question, if it meets the statutory requirements,” she said. “As an election board, we don’t have the right to say, ‘We just don’t like the wording,’ if it meets statutory requirements.”

Terflinger and Lisa Spann disagreed, noting that they had contacted the DLGF and the state election commission, and, they claim, were told the DLGF makes to changes to the question once approved by the local election board.

Martin said that wasn’t her understanding, noting that in 2016 when Wabash City Schools had a referendum, the DLGF rejected the initial wording of the question and sent it back, requiring the district rewrite the question.

Terflinger, on numerous occasions during the meeting, suggested the board table the measure until Martin could receive a clarification on the DLGF’s role. Rather than doing that, Martin recessed the meeting and was finally able to contact DLGF attorney David Marusarz, who reaffirmed her understanding.

“We take the question and we send it to DLGF,” she said. “It’s their responsibility to review the question, review the dollar amounts, review the tax bases, based on the question, based on the legal description they are given that was put in the paper, based on the information that the attorney or the entity has provided them.

“It has nothing to do with the election board. That is what the DLGF does. They review and they approve. If they don’t like it they kick it back and say, ‘You have to tweak it.’ The dollar amounts have to be accurate. The tax rate, debt service, all of that have to be accurate based on all the information that is provided that the entity is required to give to them.”

Based on that information, the board unanimously approved the question, with the addition that a legal advertisement describing in detail the project be available for public review at the various vote centers around the county. Martin said that the information will be available near the clerk’s table, where a copy of the sample ballot also is kept.

Also as requested, Martin will include a note to the DLGF noting that the matter is “a hot topic” and ask them to give it a close review.

The board also granted Martin the power to make any changes to the question as required by the DLGF.

Terflinger, before the meeting adjourned, thanked the board “for taking the extra time, in what normally would have been a very short meeting, to address our concern. We really appreciate it.”

Martin planned to submit the question to the DLGF before the end of the day on Monday, July 16. As of shortly after noon Monday, July 23, her office had not yet heard by from the state.

Posted on 2018 Jul 24