Washoe County School District’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers talks about being prepared amid uncertain funding as state faces tough economic times because of the coronavirus pandemic. Reno Gazette Journal
More than $600 million in Washoe County School District construction projects will move forward, including the building of a $200 million high school, despite uncertain tax revenues amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The district said it has planned and factored in a decrease in sales tax, the main source of its capital projects.
“We have begun modeling a recession and the impacts to sales tax revenue because of that recession,” said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers.
The increase of sales tax in Washoe County in 2016 from WC-1 — from 7.725 percent to 8.265 percent — gave the district more than $3.8 million a month for construction projects. WC-1 is a sales tax ballot initiative for school construction that passed in 2016.
In fiscal years 2016 through 2020, the district took in more than $148 million in sales tax revenues, but those numbers could change amid a shutdown of the economy as many businesses remain closed per Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s orders.
Moving forward, the district has calculated budgets to see a drop of as much as 34 percent in sales tax revenues in fiscal year 2021. Mathers said it is an even more conservative hit than the district saw during the 2008 recession.
But for now, the district is full steam ahead on dozens of projects including building its first new high school in 15 years.
The school board unanimously approved a five-year capital projects plan that includes a new high school on part of Wildcreek Golf Course in north Reno and expansions at Swope and O’Brien middle schools.
“It is very exciting,” said Chief Facilities Management Officer Adam Searcy of the new Proctor Hug High. “They are working feverishly out there to build this new school.”
The district said it also may see a significant drop in the cost of construction.
“On a budgeted project such as the construction of a new high school, as terrible as the circumstance have been in all other walks of life, we caught a good break on the timing for that project,” said Searcy, who said initial bids for parts of that project have come in lower than anticipated.
“We will see double digit percentage of construction cost reduction for the perceivable future,” he said.
The district said despite anticipating lower revenues from upwards of $50 million a year in revenues from WC-1, the district is moving forward with plans to bring in $38 million in fiscal year 2021.
The five-year capital projects budget includes:
- $307 million in major projects such as school construction
- $63 million in capital renewal projects for paving and upgrading current schools
- $120 million in debt services for paying back borrowed money for previous projects
- $27 million in program administration including salaries
- $20 million in operations and equipment
Other expenses the district said it will use its capital budget for in 2021 are to hire a communications person overseeing capital projects, to purchase fleet vehicles, school police body cameras and a school police radio system.
The district said it expects to be reimbursed through other funds for the police cameras and radio funds, but it is paying for both immediately from its capital budget.
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
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