Today is the deadline for Belgrade voters to cast ballots in the school election that's asking for $12.4 million to build a new elementary school and $500,000 a year to maintain and repair school buildings.
Belgrade School Superintendent Candy Lubansky said Monday she thinks voters will say yes because a new elementary school is needed to ease crowding at the growing schools and to allow full-time kindergarten classes.
"I am very optimistic," Lubansky said. "People with me are really positive. I really haven't heard any negative things."
The election is being conducted by mail ballot and as of Friday, 4,227 ballots had been returned, according to the Gallatin County elections office.
The Belgrade Chamber of Commerce has endorsed all three measures on the ballot, despite the difficult economy, after touring the schools and polling its 250 Belgrade members, said Debra Youngberg, executive director.
"We know it will raise taxes. Unfortunately, that's the price you pay when the community grows," Youngberg said.
"A lot of our members said, ‘Our school is kind of the center of our community. If we don't have a good school district, people will not want to move here.'"
Belgrade is one of only a handful of school districts in the state that doesn't offer full-day, every-day kindergarten, and can't offer the classes without more classrooms.
In addition, Belgrade's schools keep growing and in a few years will have more students in each classroom than allowed by state accreditation standards, Youngberg said.
Enrollment has grown by 20 percent, or more than 500 students, in the past seven years, reaching a record 3,118 this year, according to school district figures. Student numbers are expected to keep growing, in spite of the weak economy.
Youngberg said she has heard some people say they can't afford to have their taxes go up. On the other hand, she said, "right now is the perfect time to build, when construction is so reasonable. It's not going to get any cheaper.
"I understand people are strapped," Youngberg said, but added, "We need to do this."
There are three issues on the ballot. One would sell $12.4 million in bonds to build a new elementary school holding up to 500 students and to move ball fields. The debt would be paid off over 20 years through property taxes.
The other two measures would raise a total of $500,000 a year for 10 years, which would be dedicated to building maintenance and repairs.
If all three measures pass, it would cost the owner of a house with a state-assessed value of $100,000 about $69.46 a year, or $138.95 for a $200,000 home. State-assessed values are usually lower than real estate market values.
Voters who still want to vote today must bring their mailed ballots by 8 p.m. tonight to either the Belgrade School District office at 312 N. Weaver St. in Belgrade or to the Gallatin County Courthouse elections office, 311 W. Main St. in Bozeman.
Charlotte Mills, county elections clerk, reminded voters that if a ballot is put in the mail today, it won't reach the elections offices in time to be counted.
Anyone with questions about voting can call the Gallatin County elections office, 582-3060.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.