Madison school leaders to seek construction cash

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 27, 2004

[9/14/04]TALLULAH The Madison Parish School Board has called for a tax election to finance a $23 million consolidated high school Monday night.

Voters will be asked in the election, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, to approve an $18.5 million bond issue and a 1-cent sales tax increase. The sales tax would expire in 25 years.

The bonds will be general obligation bonds, which mean the school board will meet annually with the tax assessor and determine the millage necessary to pay service on the bonds. Madison Parish’s current millage rate is 10.03 mills, well below the Louisiana average of 40.

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The consolidated school would house about 1,200 6th-through 12th-grade students from McCall and Tallulah high schools and McCall and Tallulah junior high schools.

The board voted 7-1 for the tax election, with District 8 representative Terry Farlow-Hall casting the lone “nay” vote.

“People in my district don’t want a tax increase,” Farlow-Hall said. “Bottom line, that’s who you vote for.”

She also said she was concerned that the school board had not yet purchased land for the school.

The budget for the project, prepared by Faunteroy and Latham architects of Covington, La., set aside $500,000 for the purchase of 50 acres.

Samuel Thomas, a member of the committee appointed by the board to submit a plan for the school, said the $500,000 would easily pay for the land, considering land in Madison Parish rarely sells for more than $8,000 per acre. The committee budgeted $10,000 per acre.

District 1 representative Norwyn Johnson said time constraints the deadline to apply for the November ballot is Thursday prevented the school board from purchasing the land. He said the community must be involved in the land purchase decision.

“If you go out and (purchase the land) ahead of time … you can get some squabbles,” Johnson said. “I don’t think all those decisions need to be made this early.”

Tax elections to build a new school and boost faculty salaries failed in 1999 and 2002.

The proposed tax increases will pay only for school construction, bond attorney Wesley Shafto said. The language in the bond issue will prohibit the school board from spending the money on anything else.

“We’re only going to keep (the sales tax) until we get the school paid for,” Johnson said.

The school itself will cost $18 million. Engineering and architecture costs will be $1.06 million and furnishing costs will be $1.8 million. Including the $500,000 land cost, the remainder of the proposal is to pay for construction-related costs and budget overruns.

Johnson said the response has been positive among his constituents.

“They just want to make sure it’s going to the school,” he said.