The property tax increase voters in the Indian River School District overwhelmingly approved last week likely won't be as large as initially expected.

Construction on new classrooms at Georgetown's two elementary schools could start as early as October.

Meanwhile, the property tax increase voters in the Indian River School District overwhelmingly approved last week likely won't be as large as initially expected.

"It all still depends on what the state legislature does, so those aren't definite certainties just yet," Patrick Miller, the school district's chief financial officer, said this week. "But for now that appears to be where things are headed."

More than 65 percent of the roughly 3,900 voters who cast ballots in the school district's Jan. 29 referendum approved a 3.2-cent property tax increase that will fund the addition of 38 new classrooms at five elementary schools and one middle school currently facing space issues.

That tax increase was expected to raise about $438,400 a year to pay the annual debt service on the district's $4.4 million share of the total $11 million construction project, with the remainder to be covered by the state.

Miller said the tax increase was based on the anticipated annual debt service the district would need to pay if all $4.4 million worth of municipal bonds were sold at once at 5 percent interest.

However, the bond bill Gov. Jack Markell introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 24 seeks only $4.9 million in total funding for Indian River – $2.9 million from the state and $2 million from the district – and would cover the cost of new classrooms only at North Georgetown, Georgetown and East Millsboro elementary schools.

Miller said that proposal would only require a 1.46-cent property tax increase this year.

"The 3.2-cent increase was really a worst case scenario because when we got approval to put the referendum before voters, we didn't have any idea what the governor's bond bill would look like," he said. "For taxpayers, it actually ends up being cheaper if the bonds for the construction are sold over multiple years because the debt service payments decrease every year and we only adjust the rate to collect what we need for a given year."

The second part of last week's referendum, also approved by more than 65 percent of voters, included an 11.5-cent property tax rate increase that will collect $1.81 million in annual operating funds to cover the hiring of 20 new teachers, as well as furniture, supplies and added utility costs related to the school expansions.

Superintendent Susan Bunting said that tax increase would be implemented in full because the district will need at least 20 more teachers next year due to rising student enrollment and the district's planned addition of full-day kindergarten.
Taxpayers in the district can expect to see the new school tax rate – now expected to be about $2.7529 per $100 of assessed property value, or about 4.9 percent more than the previous rate of $2.623 percent – in their July bills.

Miller said several factors could impact the anticipated start date for construction at the three elementary schools identified in the governor's bond bill, include the proposed legislation's approval by the General Assembly, when the municipal bonds are actually sold and the process of hiring one or more contractors.

"If everything goes perfectly, we should be starting construction at those schools in October or November, with the rest of the schools to follow in the fall of 2014," he said. "Each project should take about 18 months, which would mean the new classrooms in Georgetown could be ready by the 2014-2015 school year."