THE BSD MILLAGE, PART 1: An auditorium and a gym

This article is the first in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

Batesville School District wants to upgrade its facilities, and fund it via a personal property tax rate increase. It has offered three proposals for citizens to consider.

The Auditorium

All of the three improvement options center around two large additions: an auditorium and a gym.

Russellville School District’s auditorium, which seats 1,875, was used for an event 26 weekends last year, according to their Executive Director, Chrissy Clayton. She said their building hosted 170 events throughout the year, 6 of which filled it to capacity. Thirty of those events were rentals (non-district). The 130,000 square foot Center was completed in 2012, after the people of Russellville said yes to a 6.9 millage.

Hannah Cummings, Theatre Director for Batesville High School, and Josh Poff, Band Director for BHS, visit with Daniel Stahl, the technical director for Russellville’s The Center For the Arts on Sep 14, 2019 during a fact finding trip for the upcoming millage.

Batesville School District no longer has an auditorium.

Its previous auditorium was built in 1951 and was in use by students until last school year, for a total of 68 years.

The cost to renovate the old auditorium up to code would cost 97 percent of what a new building would cost, according to the district’s Buildings and Grounds Steering Committee member Courtney Beal.

To build one that meets the minimum requirements for a 5A school, the district says, would cost $17 million. They want to build a new one.

The Gym

The district also wants to build a new gymnasium, since the current school gym has been used for 50 years. When it was built, the school was classified as 3A, and the population was 33 percent less than now. Also, the only team using it in 1969 was the men’s basketball team.

The school’s architect says a new gym would cost $15 million. Same story with the renovations. It would cost more to renovate than build new.

To build these two facilities, and update existing facilities, the district is asking local property owners to contribute $45 to $85 million.

The Cost

PLAN A, the lowest option, a $45 million bond:

An increase of $13.50 per month per $100,000 of a person’s property value (to include homes, real estate, business, vehicles)

That tax amount increases for Option B and Option C.

Fear

Asking locals to pay a higher tax is not an easy ask. Tight budgets could get tighter. Those on a fixed income would have less. (Click here to read what the local tax collector had to say.)

One of the FAQs, according to the school district’s information, is whether the millage will affect Senior Citizens at the same rate. The answer is yes.

Some of these concerns were expressed by citizens who attended the town hall meeting at the community center on Tuesday, Nov 12.

To hear more concerns being expressed, watch the district’s first meeting, which was broadcast live on White River Now’s social media page, and as of Nov 17, had 4,600 views.

Why should I invest in these two buildings? Will they help the economy grow?

Years ago, voters said yes to a millage for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) to build a 1,500-seat auditorium, hoping it would provide economic growth. The college completed Independence Hall in 2001 and made the final payment in 2018.

According to the Strategic Community Plan Report released by Impact Independence County in 2015: “Despite being a nearly $50 million a year industry, Independence County’s tourism sector has been on a steady decline, both in terms of visitor interest and revenue, for more than a decade.”

Which means that unfortunately, building the largest auditorium in town did not increase tourism revenue during that decade.

Still, the facility is widely used. Examples of recent events there include: former NASA Engineer, Dr. Christine Darden, presented to more than 1,000 local middle school and junior high students on Apr 11, 2019, and Lee Greenwood held a concert there on Sep 7, 2019.

Currently, Batesville School District is not in the running for hosting events. They lose out to places like Russellville, chosen to host the State Thespian Festival in Feb 2019, which lasted three days and included 1,222 high school students from around the state and 98 guest artists, including a producer from New York City. This is their third time to host, and they say they were chosen because of their facility and people.

Will local growth eventually alleviate some of this new tax burden?

Tourism

Tourism is the second largest industry in the state and has shown growth for nine consecutive years. Batesville wanted to experience that growth, so voters said yes to hiring a full-time position devoted entirely to growing the local tourism. Kyle Christopher was hired in 2016, and since then, the tourism industry in Batesville has been increasing. Last year, visitors paid close to $1 million in taxes to our community, and travel expenditures in the county were up 4.2 percent.

If the tourism industry in Batesville continues to grow, Batesville will grow, and the millage debt can be paid off sooner. (More tax payers means more money for the school and higher property values for land owners.)

Industry

In 2002 (the year after Independence Hall was completed), Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville sold their first mower. They now employ more than 700 people. They manufacture and store their zero-turn mowers in more than one million square feet of facilities, according to their website. They currently host their annual meeting in Little Rock. Batesville does not have the facilities to host a large event like this one.

Banking

Banking deposits in Independence County increased 18 percent in 2018 compared to 2014, according to data reported in the 2018 Economic Report for Batesville and Independence County (Report is available on First Community Bank’s website.)

Healthcare

In 2017, White River Medical Center welcomed its first class of resident doctors, and now has 29 Internal Medicine residents. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) clinic in Batesville welcomed its first class of residents this summer, and at full capacity will have 18 family medicine residents. Many residents do not come alone. They bring family members with them. Which increases the population and economy.

According to the American Medical Association, a physician who practices in Arkansas provides an average yearly economic benefit of $1.8 million to the community where they practice. (Jobs are created to support them. The average number is 11 per physician.)

Unity Health, located in Searcy, has graduated 27 residents since they started in 2015, and has retained 5, or 18.5 percent, to work within their hospital system, according to their Graduate Medical Education Manager, Leslie Provence.

If Batesville follows that same pattern, the area would retain 4 physicians and their families every year. Which means, unless those physicians are directly replacing a retiring physician, the local economy could experience economic growth of $7.2 million per year.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read part 2 in the series, click here.

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