Early voting numbers low for McAllen ISD tax election

McALLEN — Early voting for the proposed tax ratification election for the local school district has thus far prompted nearly 700 voters to cast their ballots with one week to go before Election Day.

The Hidalgo County Elections Department reported a total of 699 votes as of Thursday. Of these, 255 were cast via mail, the latest report showed. Friday’s total count was not available as of press time.

Early voting began on Aug. 22 and will run through Tuesday with the early voting polls closed Sunday and Monday. The three poling locations for early voting are Fireman’s Pump House at 201 N. First St., the Lark Community Center at 2601 Lark Ave., and Palmview Community Center at 3401 Jordan Ave. These locations open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The tax ratification election, or TRE, was proposed by school district officials as a way to levy a higher portion of its current tax rate, which is at $1.155 per $100 valuation, for maintenance and operations.

Without the ratification, the district is only able to use $1.04 out of the total tax rate to pay for maintenance and operation costs, or M&O, while the rest goes to interest and sinking, known as I&S, which pays for school district debt.

The only avenue provided for districts to put more pennies into the M&O side is a TRE, and the McAllen school district is proposing using the ratification to move 11.5 pennies into this fund in order to levy more state dollars. Pennies moved into the M&O fund are matched at a higher rate.

“The net effect would be no change to the taxpayer,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations Lorena Garcia during an interview in May. “You are still collecting taxes on the same amount of money. … The difference is that if you leave it in the I&S side, the state-matching dollars will only levy about $400,000 versus the M&O side, in which the state will match you almost dollar-per-dollar. That will get you another $7 million.”

Election Day is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday Sept. 8. The locations will include Fields Elementary located at 500 W. Dallas Ave., Gonzalez Elementary at 201 E. Martin Ave., Lincoln Middle School at 1601 N. 27th St., McAllen High School at 2021 La Vista Ave., as well as Palmview and Lark Community Centers.

If passed, the TRE would also allow the district to, at any point, raise the total tax rate by those additional 11.5 pennies without the need for another election. But district officials have said throughout several presentations of the TRE that this is not the plan.

“We can’t predict the future, but we are saying right now that we are committed to $1.155,” Superintendent Jose Gonzalez said back in May. “We have a track record for the last nine years. The board has not increased taxes, so history speaks for itself … and in 2016, taxes actually went down.”

The additional $7 million are intended to continue addressing needs of the district, including safety and security upgrades, additional learning spaces such as laboratories, and staff compensation, Gonzalez said.

This article was modified to reflect that McAllen ISD’s tax rate is of $1.155 per $100 valuation.