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APS voters reject bond, mill levy questions

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

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Presiding Judge Patricia Cotterell collects empty envelopes for retention in the last stage before counting ballots for the APS mail-in election at the voting warehouse on South Broadway on Monday, February 4, 2019. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Voters overwhelmingly rejected Albuquerque Public Schools’ two mill levy questions and a proposed bond that cumulatively would have raised their property tax bills by about 5 percent. The defeat plunges the district’s capital master plan into uncertainty.

According to unofficial results on Tuesday night that tabulated 99 percent of votes, all three questions on the ballot failed by wide margins. Jaime Diaz, deputy county clerk, said up to 900 ballots from Bernalillo County and some in Sandoval County still need to be processed, but he said those would not likely affect the results.

The first mill levy question, which would not have raised taxes, was voted down by 64 percent of those casting ballots. The second mill levy question and the bond, both of which would have resulted in higher property taxes, were voted down by 69 and 58 percent, respectively.

“The ballots have been counted, and the voters have made their wishes clear,” APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy said in a prepared statement. “The majority voted against a bond/mill levy package that would have paid to improve student safety, rebuild and repair our schools and refresh our technology and equipment.

“We are disappointed, of course. But we respect the democratic process and the will of the electorate,” she added. “We appreciate all of those who rallied on behalf of our school district. Now we will need to reassess our situation and come up with a plan for addressing issues that come with aging schools.”

Voters were deciding on whether APS would raise its tax rate from 10.45 to about 12.45 – a 19 percent increase. The district had said that would result in a 4.7 percent uptick on residents’ total property tax bills.

For a homeowner with a home valued at $220,000, the increase would have translated to an increase of about $147 a year.

This wasn’t a typical election for APS.

A change in state law last year requires special elections like the APS mill levy/bond election to be conducted exclusively by mail. More than 100,000 ballots were turned in.

Voter turnout for the APS election is estimated at about 28.7 percent, according to the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office.

That’s a substantial uptick from the 3 to 5 percent who have normally turned out for past APS elections, according to the clerk’s office.

Voters residing in the APS district were deciding on mill levy and bond questions that the district said would be used to fund an array of capital projects, school security, technology and classroom equipment expenditures.

If they had been approved, the questions would have brought in $900 million to APS over the next six years. APS had said that the $900 million was needed to help execute its full capital master plan. However, none of the questions passed.

According to APS documents, about half the money would have gone toward the design and construction of 11 new projects and 23 ongoing projects. Maintenance efforts at APS buildings and technology costs were also big tickets items. And the district has also said about $20 million – or just over 2 percent – would have gone toward school security efforts.

In its entirety, the capital master plan priorities represent more than $1 billion worth of work the district has planned over six years with about $68 million from past election revenue.

The district has said that the failure to pass the first question, which would primarily fund maintenance, would devastate the maintenance efforts in the district. And failure to pass the other two questions leaves the fate of the construction projects and other expenditures in the air.

APS has previously said it intends to ask for voter approval in 2022 for a $212 million general obligation bond as well.

There was significant opposition to the proposed property tax increase.

And Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation who has been spearheading opposition, said he was glad of Tuesday night’s results.

“It’s a great day for the taxpayers of the APS district, and I think it’s clear that APS overreached on this particular tax hike proposal,” he said.

In November, when the APS Board of Education approved the ballot, on a 6-1 vote, many opponents came out to protest the proposed tax increase, including Gessing – a harbinger for the opposition campaigns that would follow.

Those against the ballot questions argued that APS should be more strategic and responsible with its current budget. Supporters countered that it was an investment into the community and its students.

A lawsuit was also filed against APS over the election, contending that the district violated state law when it didn’t officially specify projects the taxpayer money would fund, among other assertions.

This was the first special, mail-in election in Bernalillo County following local election law changes. Ballots in the APS election were first sent out on Jan. 8. In all, the clerk’s office sent out about 420,000 ballots.

The election wasn’t without hiccups.

Nathan Jaramillo, bureau of elections administrator for Bernalillo County, said a “high percentage” of ballots came in without date of birth information. He said ultimately the presiding judges of the absentee board allowed the ballots to be counted, saying they determined it would still be adherent to the law.

Other issues included multiple ballots that were addressed to former residents going to a single home, which was caused by out-of-date voter registration information.

Among those who did cast ballots in the election were Winston and Marleen Trotter.

They cast their ballots at 6:59 p.m. Tuesday – a minute before polls closed. They said they had trouble finding the Voting Warehouse, but they made it just in time to submit their ballots.

“To help the kids,” Winston Trotter said about why they rushed down to the Voting Warehouse. He said he and Marleen try to vote in every APS election.

Danielle Karler, a 31-year-old property owner, also cast her ballot on Tuesday night.

She said the process of submitting her ballot was easy but said she would have liked more accessible information on the deadlines.

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