MASON CITY — Voters throughout north-central Iowa will be headed to the polls on Tuesday to decide on bond issues. The entire listening area will be deciding on a $15 million bond issue for North Iowa Area Community College, while Clear Lake Community School District voters will be deciding on an $18 million referendum.
== For NIACC, it’s the first general obligation bond asking of the voters in the college’s 100-year history. President Steve Schulz says the campus is 50 years old and some of that money will be used to improve the campus infrastructure as well as for improvements needed for the future. “Just like your home, it’s starting to show a little age, some of it you see, some of it you don’t see. the underground pipes and the roofs and some of those things you just don’t see. What we’re trying to do is reinvest in that physical plant so that we can set that up for success moving forward. We’re going to invest heavily in the workforce training side of this for science, technology, engineering, health, advanced manufacturing, technology. We’re going to build a few, maybe two to three, career centers which will be outside of Mason City proper, that will allow high school access to these high-quality career programs that currently do not.”
Schulz says it’s a ten-year bond that will cost taxpayers spread out through 11 counties about 85 cents per month on a home assessed at $100,000. “It’s spread out over 11 counties, so that’s why the numbers are so low. When you think about local school bond issues, that’s all in one district. This goes in 19 school districts, and all of seven and parts of four other counties. At the end of the day, on a $100,000 home, it’s going to be $0.85 a month or $10.17 a year. That’s about as reasonable a bond as you can put out in front of your voters. On a $200,000 home it’s $2 78 month and $21.32 a year.”
Schulz says now is the right time to address the infrastructure needs on campus. “We want to be as reasonable as we could and get some of these infrastructure pieces taken care of so that those costs don’t go up. One of the interesting questions that I get is ‘what if it doesn’t pass?’ I say ‘put me on your agenda for a year from today and I’ll be back with a higher number’, that’s kind of the truth. We think we’re at the right time with this. Inflation is not your friend when you start talking about infrastructure upgrades. We think we can do just really some great work with this ask, and hope folks will get out and vote on March 3rd.”
== For Clear Lake voters, about $10 million of the $18 million bond issue would go towards a proposed community recreation and wellness center, while the other money would be used for several projects at each of the district’s buildings.
Superintendent Doug Gee says the process of looking into improving gym space needs started in 2017 and has culminated in a project along with the city on a center that can be used by the entire community. “Part of that was we’re going to do some gym space, and then we went to the city. Board member Tony Brownlee and I went to see Scott Flory and Mayor Crabb and said we could make this more extensive project if the city would be interested in coming on board. The school has the land, we don’t have to purchase the land, we have the bonding capacity to do this without increasing the tax rate levy from the school standpoint, would you be interested, and they said absolutely. The next process, we involved about 15 community leaders and asked them if this was something you think the community would be your behind, in favor of, and they all said absolutely.”
Gee says when he first came to the school district, the district had overspent, but now that’s under control, it’s time for the district to look at making improvements. “We’re in a position now, we’re in the best financial shape that Clear Lake really has ever been in as far back as I can look. We’re in a position where we are not going to need to put on any type of cash reserve levy. What that allows us to do is to bond for this $18 million and keep the school’s tax rate levy even at $10.39. In fact, it actually looks like our tax rate levy could even go down over the next five years because we’re in a much better cash position as a school district.”
Gee says the center will be helpful not only for community wellness, but for academics for the district. “If a person looks at student participation, there’s lots of research out there that says that students that participate in activities do better academically. Having more gym space gets our kids home at a decent time instead of sometimes we have practices going till 8:00 or 9:00 at night. Practice in the morning. I think that we can if not eliminate really cut back on that in the morning practices, which has helped out academics. We also have the ability that as our kids get more involved, physical activity helps in the classroom, so having things to be more involved.”
== Mason City Community School District voters are also being asked to go to the ballot box on Tuesday to renew the district’s revenue purpose statement. Each district must have a revenue purpose statement approved on how the one-cent sales tax earmarked for the school district is used. Superintendent Dave Versteeg in a recent social media post points out it’s not a new program or tax, as two of the biggest areas of use of the penny tax are upkeep of buildings and technology.
Polls are open Tuesday from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Click here for a list of polling places in Cerro Gordo County