Tuesday’s vote to increase funding 400 percent for building projects at Northeast Technology Center could be contested due to improper publication of the election notice.
Officials at Northeastern Technology Center are asking voters in eight counties to approve two propositions in Tuesday’s special election that, if passed, will raise the building millage from 1 to 5 and possibly make the tax increase permanent. Homeowners and business owners pay the annual tax as an ad valorem assessment.
The Oklahoma Election Board confirmed Friday that NTC is required to publish the legal notice announcing its tax propositions, along with the election date, in each county the technology district covers. That means the legal notice would have had to appear in all eight counties in the district which includes five full counties and portions of three other counties. The legal notice was only published in one newspaper — the Pryor Daily Times in Mayes County.
Gary Fox, the public information director at NTC, said the decision to only publish in the Daily Times was made because the newspaper is located in the home county of the school’s administrative offices.
Fox said his understanding of the election requirements were that the legal notice only had to be printed in “one” newspaper of record with “general distribution.”
Conversations with Mike Clingman, public information officer with the Oklahoma Election Board, indicate Fox and the NTC administration headed by Superintendent Dell Heavener have been ill-advised or misinformed.
“From what I am reading in Title 26 (chapter A1, Article XIII-A, Section 13A-109), which is the Election Code that we use for elections, (NTC) is required to publish the notice in a newspaper in every county the technology district covers,” Clingman said.
Because the legal notice may not have been properly published in accordance with state law, Clingman said if one or both propositions pass, the vote could be contested by the district’s property owners.
“I believe it would have to be contested in each of the counties, if it passes,” he said.
District Attorney Gene Haynes said Friday morning he was also looking into the publishing requirements for NTC’s legal notice and what would be required if the vote were contested. Haynes represents three of the eight counties within NTC’s district, Rogers, Mayes and Craig Counties.
Fox, who was given charge of the election publicity by school Superintendent Dell Heavener and the Board of Directors, said other means of informing the public had been utilized.
“We did distribute information sheets to people in the district,” Fox said. “I think the reason we decided to wait unil a later date to go public with it is because of the holiday time frame, and I wanted it to be closer to the actual date so that people wouldn’t forget about it or think we tried to advertise too early so they would forget about it.”
Heavener said in addition to distributing information throughout the district, it was also circulated through NTC’s advisory committees.
“On each of our campuses, we have advisory committee meetings and this information was distributed at all of those committee meetings,” Heavener said. “They’re made up of people our instructors are associated with in the trade they represent. They may be private, small business owners, they may be employed by a large company. They may be vice presidents of banks. There’s a broad representation of individuals out of the community and (information) went out to all of those.”
Fox said Thursday that the Board of Directors decided Oct. 1 the millage needed to be increased in order to allow the vocational technical education school to expand facilities and upgrade existing technologies. In addition, Fox said new programs will eventually be added, if the measure passes.
“The campuses in Pryor and Afton opened in 1973 and many of the shop areas and classrooms are small and they’re old. They need upgrading,” Fox said. “Plus, we have had an increase in recent years in students. Some of our classes have waiting lists.”
Classes like the school’s cosmetology, health care and practical nursing programs have waiting lists and will be offered at the Claremore Campus scheduled to be open in 2009.
Administrators said they had hoped to be able to move some of the existing building costs out of the school’s operational budget into the building budget and free up more money for program development.
Fox added that none of the funds from the increased millage, if passed, would be used to construct the Claremore facility.
“The Claremore Campus will be built with monies that we’ve already secured,” Fox said. “This millage passage is going to go for the districtwide plans we have in place, which would be the adding of new programs, the remodeling of our facilities at the campuses and just building new classroom space.”
Ongoing cuts in state funding to the district are also a factor in the school’s request for additional tax dollars, Heavener said.
“The state, as you know, cut funding from all schools three or four years ago, and ours has never been restored,” Heavener said. “As a matter of fact, we were just notified last year of additional cuts of state aid. Over the next five years, the state will decrease our funding by approximately $3 million.”
Local funding, including ad valorem taxes, makes up 70 percent of NTC’s budget, with a little less than 30 percent coming from the state. The remaining approximately 2 percent comes from federal dollars, which Heavener said, “is a very small part of our funding.”
NTC’s existing funding through ad valorem taxes is now permanently set at 11 mills and is broken down into three funds: A five-mill levy each for operational and incentive funds, and a one-mill levy for the building fund. The one-mill levy for the building fund was voted into permanency in February 2004 and generates approximately $980,000 a year.
If the increase is approved, the district would receive an additional $3.92 million per year districtwide, which NTC officials say will be used for the expansion and upgrades outlined in their strategic plan, which was developed five years ago.
“If the millage doesn’t pass, we won’t be able to expand our facilities or fix the leaking roof or the flooding issues at some buildings,” Heavener said.
When asked for a cost estimate for the projects outlined in the strategic plan, Heavener said one could not be provided.
“As you know, with construction costs, any time you go beyond a year the estimates are really out of date,” he said. “And so it’s been four or five years since the inception of the project and some of the numbers I could quote would not be accurate.”
The Claremore facility was not included in the original strategic plan, Heavener said, and it was added due to the rapid growth and service demands of Rogers County’s growing population. Rogers County is also one of the largest contributors to NTC’s tax revenue.
If the increase in taxes is approved by voters Tuesday, Rogers County Assessor Melissa Anderson said homeowners whose home values are $100,000 would see an increase of approximately $44 per year. Those with a home valued at $300,000 could see an increase of $132 per year.
Rogers County government officials, as well as some area school superintendents, expressed concern about the upcoming vote.
Claremore Superintendent Mike McClaren said, “We like to support educational issues and generally join in an agreement to support those types of taxes.” On Friday, however, he said he had only learned about the vote five or six days earlier.
“I certainly would have liked to have had a conversation with an NTC representative as to the funding mechanisms that they have in place that would have justified the increase. ... It is generally thought that they are adequately funded,” McClaren said.
Claremore Schools, under McClaren’s leadership, just passed a $42.5 million bond package to upgrade school facilities including building classrooms, a new elementary and upgrade the football stadium and fieldhouse.
Claremore worked through a public building committee which began meeting over a year ago to devise a master plan for the district which assessed enrollment growth, facility needs and financial options. It was discovered that the school district could acquire the funding without increasing the existing tax levels.
When the plan was adopted by the Board of Education, it was taken to the public through meetings with civic and community organizations, legal notices and newspaper coverage and was approved in November.
Neighboring Owasso Schools, another high growth area in Rogers County, has also passed a $40 million plus school building tax.
Inola passed a building tax in December 2006 to improve school facilities.
Verdigris and Justus-Tiawah have also passed recent building proposals.
Sequoyah School district is in the process of developing a master growth plan that will require tax funding.
All publicly funded education, such as NTC and public schools, have the option to ask voters to approve property taxes to underwrite financial needs for the school districts.
What is Northeast Technology Center
Established in 1973
Provides career training for high school students, industry training and adult education.
Service area includes Mayes, Craig, Ottawa, Rogers and Delaware counties, as well as parts of three additional counties — Nowata, Wagoner and Cherokee.
Campuses located in Ottawa, Delaware and Mayes counties, serving 29 public high schools in the five-county area.
Ground was broken this month on a new Claremore campus.
Estimated that NTC has graduated over 13,000 full-time students, and 95 percent of those graduates have achieved positive placement either on-the-job, in higher ed, or in the military in its 35-year history
Over 12,000 area employees benefited from NTC training programs last year.
Over 5,000 adults attended one or more evening classes.
Approximately 400 agricultural and ranching families have participated in theAgri-Business Management program.
Over 500 small businesses have been helped through the Business Development programs.
In 1973, NTC offered 40 evening classes each semester district-wide. That number is now 245.
PERMANENT PROPERTY TAX FUNDING
now in place throughout the district supporting Northeast Technology Center
5 mill — operations (maximum)
5 mill — incentive (maximum)
1 mill — building (1 out of 5 maximum)
Annual tax revenue from the 11 mill assessment — approximately $11 million
(Ad valorem taxes make up 70 percent of NTC’s budget, less than 30 percent direct appropriations from the state and approximately 2 percent from federal.)
Eligible voters in Rogers County can cast in-person absentee ballots on Monday at the County Election Board located across the street from the County Courthouse in Claremore.
Precinct voting is 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at your regular precinct location.