An estimated 54,000 ballots were mailed to Gallatin County voters last week for local school elections, but so far voters have been slow to cast their votes.
Charlotte Mills, county elections clerk, said Monday that since ballots were mailed out April 22, her office has received back more ballots deemed “undeliverable” by the Postal Service (4,500) than actual cast votes.
“I’d expect more back by now,” Mills said.
The deadline for voters to hand in or mail their ballots in most school districts is just one week away, May 7. Only two school districts — Springhill and Willow Creek — will hold their elections at local polling places on that Tuesday, while the rest are holding their elections by mail.
Most districts are electing school board trustees and asking for property tax increases for their general funds to help pay for running the schools next year.
Big Sky, the only school district holding a bond election, is seeking approval of a $10.2 million, 15-year bond issue to buy land and build a new elementary school building to house its growing number of students.
“Right now I do not have space,” Big Sky Superintendent Jerry House said. “If the bond were to fail, I’d have to bring in trailers or modulars…. Without passage of this bond, we’re in dire straits.”
Bozeman, the county’s largest district, is asking voters to approve property tax increases to run the elementary and high schools, and additional elementary-district levies to pay for building repairs and computer technology. The ballot measures have been endorsed by the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce and have no organized opposition.
To be counted, mailed ballots must be back in officials’ hands (not just postmarked) by 8 p.m. May 7. Ballots can be returned to the Gallatin County election office, 311 W. Main St., Bozeman, or to school district offices in the Bozeman, Belgrade, Amsterdam or Manhattan for voters in those districts.
Here’s what’s on the ballot in each school district:
Big Sky: Two candidates – Loren Bough and Laura Michel — for running for two seats. Voters are being asked to raise $50,000 for the general fund by approving a levy that would increase taxes by $2.75 on a home with a taxable value of $100,000.
The $10.2 million bond issue would create a 15-year debt, buy 7 acres next to the track and football complex and build a 48,500-square-foot school for kindergarten to fourth grades, with 12 classrooms, a new gym, multipurpose room, music and art classrooms and conference rooms. The middle school would move into the current elementary classrooms, and the high school would expand into the middle school space.
Since the last bond issue in 2008 to build the high school wing, enrollment has grown 38 percent to 250 students, making Big Sky one of the fastest growing districts in the state, according to the school district.
Bozeman elementary: Three incumbents are running for three seats – Andy Willett and Elizabeth Williamson for three-year positions and Sue MacGrath for a two-year position. The elementary general fund levy would raise up to $303,500 and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $2.36 next year.
A building reserve levy for building repairs would raise $1.5 million a year for six years and replace a $1 million-a-year levy that’s expiring. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17.35 a year, though with the expiration of the old $11.79-a-year levy, it would mean a net increase of $5.56 a year.
A technology levy (on the back page of the ballot), to raise $382,070 a year for computer equipment and training, would cost the $100,000 homeowner $2.06 a year. It would be permanent and replace an expiring $200,000 levy.
If all three elementary levies pass (plus the high school levy, below), property taxes would increase for the owner of a $100,000 home up to 7.55 mills or $8.77 a year.
Bozeman high school: Voters in the Anderson, Bozeman, Cottonwood, Gallatin Gateway, LaMotte, Malmborg and Monforton elementary districts, which send their teenagers to Bozeman High, are being asked to approve a general fund levy of $81,100, which would raise the taxes on a $100,000 home about 78 cents.
Belgrade: Four candidates are running for three seats — Dee Batey, Richard Duncan, Robert Marx and Peter Morgan. Voters can vote for three. In the Belgrade elementary district, voters are being asked to support a general fund levy to raise $544,504, which would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by $20.49.
For the high school, voters are asked to approve a general fund levy that would raise $96,080, and increase taxes on a $100,000 home by $3.53.
Amsterdam: Five candidates are competing for two seats – Anne Anderson, Craig DeBoer, Neal Dykstra, Cindy Moreaux and Jason Yager. Two tax levies are on the ballot — a general fund levy would raise $25,000 and cost the $100,000 homeowner about $9.52 a year. The other levy if for the separate Manhattan High School District and is detailed below.
Anderson: Two candidates are running for two seats, Warren Bauder and Mary Fran San Soucie.
Cottonwood: Only the Bozeman High School levy is on the ballot.
Gallatin Gateway: Three candidates are running for two seats — Dan Curtis, Julie Fleury and Donna Shockley — and voters can vote for two. An elementary levy would raise $36,705, which would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by $11.13 a year.
LaMotte: Two candidates are running for two seats — Amy Allen and Ken Miller. The district is seeking approval of two levies — a technology fund levy to raise $5,000, which would cost about $2.55 a year for a $100,000 home, and a building repair fund of $10,000, which would raise taxes about $5.12 a year.
Malmborg: Two candidates are running for two seats — Shawna Schott for a two-year term and Jennifer McKay for a three-year term.
Manhattan: Two candidates are seeking two seats — Robert Brownell and Brand Robinson. Elementary district voters are being asked to approve a building repair levy that would raise $250,000 a year for five years and cost $55.25 for the owner of a $100,000 home. High school district voters will decide on a separate building repair levy of $250,000 a year for five years, which would raise taxes $34.30 a year on a $100,000 home.
Monforton: Candidates Donald Akina and Jonathan Herz are competing for one seat with a one-year term, while three candidates — Tim Kuhlman, Alan Roos and Brett Safranski — are competing for two seats with three-year terms.
Springhill: Two candidates are running for one seat — incumbent Ted Bryan and challenger Trevor Smieja. There’s no levy on the ballot.
West Yellowstone:Two candidates are competing for one seat — Rachael Burden and Sandi Peppler. No levies are on the ballot.
Willow Creek: Wesley Crittenden is running unopposed for a school board seat. Voters are being asked to approve an elementary general fund levy of $31,614, which would raise the taxes on a $100,000 home by $39.56.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.