Cary Woods Elementary

A rendering that shows the new Cary Woods Elementary building

A special-called meeting of the City Council set for 9 a.m. Thursday will determine the date that Auburn voters will cast a ballot on whether to use the city's 5 Mill Tax Fund to finance two upcoming school facilities projects.

The 5 Mill Fund, which has been around since the 1940s and previously funded city recreational projects, was dedicated to Auburn City Schools for facilities projects in 2015 by residents during a special election. It has since funded the new Auburn High School and Creekside Elementary School.

If the election is successful this year, the city would move forward with issuing $46.09 million in bonds to finance two projects — overhauls to Cary Woods Elementary and J.F. Drake Middle School. The bonds would be repaid over time through the 5 Mill Fund monies.

The Auburn City Council had the opportunity to approve an ordinance setting the election date as July 23 at its meeting Tuesday, but Councilman Steven Dixon did not consent to move forward with a vote. If a councilperson denies unanimous consent to vote on an ordinance, the ordinance is then tabled for two weeks and must be voted on during its second reading at the next meeting.

In this case, stalling the vote would mean pushing back the election to mid-August, because of the length of time the city is required to advertise the election before it occurs.

Pushing back the election was Dixon's motive.

"I just believe that the date selected, July 23, I think it's a bad date for voters," he said. "It's in the middle of the summer. A lot of stakeholders, voters are out of town. A lot of educators are out of town in the summer months ... I'm not against the projects here; it is 100 percent about the voters and them having the opportunity to vote."

Councilman Bob Parsons also supported pushing the date back after saying he had heard from several constituents that voting would be more convenient if the election were held in late August.

Several council members were upset by the delay, saying that the date of July 23 had been vetted by Auburn University and Auburn City Schools. Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor also made the point that if the election is held in July, all residents would have the opportunity to vote — whether at the polls or through absentee ballots.

While Dixon agreed with Taylor's point, he did not retract his denial of consent.

In an effort to prevent the election date from being pushed back, the council decided to call a special meeting for Thursday morning, during which will be a second reading of the ordinance and a vote. The ordinance will require five votes to pass.

The special-called meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the City Meeting Room, located at 122-B Tichenor Ave. Coverage of this meeting will be provided at auburnvillager.com.

Councilman Brett Smith said he felt that delaying setting an election date that had been previously vetted was irresponsible.

"This (is) to secure funding and use the money for our children and our schools, but we're going to deny the ability to do that tonight? I think that is one of the more irresponsible things we could do as a council," he said. "I cannot imagine another issue when everyone has the ability to vote and we're willing to arbitrarily delay a vote on funds for our school system. It's our pride and joy in this community, our schools."

While the 5 Mill Fund has been dedicated to funding future school facilities projects, about every four or five years, residents will have the opportunity to vote to approve which projects it funds.

This year's referendum would seek approval to fund renovations to Cary Woods and Drake Middle School, which are mapped out in the ACS facilities master plan, which outlines projects through 2028 and was approved by the ACS Board of Education last May.

The first two large projects on the horizon are Drake and Cary Woods," said Daniel Chesser, ACS public relations specialist. "Both those campuses were constructed in the '50s, so you're talking about campuses over 60 years old."

While working with architects and consultants, it was determined that it would be more cost effective to demolish and rebuild the campuses, Chesser said.

Both projects are slated to begin this summer, when school is out, and will involve multiple phases.

For a look at the ACS master plan, visit auburnschools.org.

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