SHERIDAN — Emails from Sheridan County School District 2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty and conversations with Whitney Benefits board members indicate Dougherty misled the community when he said earlier this month that the school district had not pursued a bond issue or asked for foundation funding to support a large multipurpose recreation facility.
In an email to Northern Wyoming Community College District President Dr. Paul Young dated March 22, 2013, Dougherty states that SCSD2 planned to pursue a bond issue in an election to fund the building project in May 2014.
Documents related to the building project, including any staff emails, were requested from the school district by The Sheridan Press on Jan. 31 pursuant to Wyoming open records laws. Similar documents were also requested from NWCCD on Feb. 17. The emails between Dougherty and Young were not included in SCSD2’s response to the request, but were included in documents provided by NWCCD.
The emails contradict Dougherty’s statements to The Sheridan Press during an interview on Feb. 5, 2014, indicating the project was not far enough along in the planning process to warrant a timeline for a bond election. When asked whether a bond issue had been discussed, Dougherty answered “no” and SCSD2 Facilities Director Julie Carroll said “not currently.” Dougherty then added that the district has gathered information in regards to the community’s bonding capacity along with other funding options, but none of those options had “risen to the level of OK, this is what we’re doing.”
“We haven’t even reached the point where any of, all those entities, have felt like we should even start or approach (a bond election),” Carroll said.
But a report dated Jan. 29, 2013, from Hilltop Public Solutions consulting company of Billings was obtained by The Press earlier this month and proposes fees that would be charged for a February through August marketing campaign for a bond election. The report was titled, “A Proposal to the Sheridan School Bond Initiative Campaign.” SCSD2 did not provide a copy of the report as part of the public records request from The Sheridan Press on Jan. 31, but it was obtained from a different source.
The Sheridan County Assessor’s Office told The Sheridan Press that the properties within the district had an assessed value of $322,452,029. This means for every mill levied on those properties, the school district raises approximately $322,000. The school district currently assesses 25 mills, raising more than $8 million each year from property taxes alone.
When asked whether the Hilltop proposal considered a countywide bond or one limited to SCSD2, Dougherty initially responded it would be limited to the school district before saying, “No there hasn’t even to that point. It’s just gathering information.”
If every interest group in the community had their “wish list” items included in the facility, SCSD2 officials said, the cost of the facility would be more than $45 million.
Consultant Ballard*King and Associates noted in a marketing study that cost the school district more than $17,000 that depending on the ultimate size of the facility and how it is staffed, an annual subsidy of $700,000 to $1.7 million could be required.
Whether or not a bond issue would be requested only for capital costs, or as continuing support for the facility, is not clear.
But, if one mill were assessed through a bond issue to help fund the facility, it would take the district 139 years to raise $45 million. The rate for property owners would be $9.50 per year for every $100,000 of assessed property value owned.
In order to shorten that time frame to 35 years, that rate would jump to $38 per year for every $100,000 of property value.
Other options for funding the recreation facility were outlined in the report from Ballard*King and Associates. Recommendations included creating an endowment with donations from supporting individuals and foundations.
The report noted, “While the median household income is a challenge the presence of significant wealth and philanthropic groups within the County provides opportunity for fundraising. B*K would recommend if this effort was undertaken that a portion be deferred to an endowment the interest of which could be used to offset operating expenses associated with the facility.”
When asked if SCSD2 had formally or informally approached area foundations for support for the project, Dougherty said, “We haven’t gotten to that point.”
“We haven’t sat down and said, ‘Would you fund this,’ no, we haven’t done that,” Dougherty added.
But Whitney Benefits board member Roy Garber said that is not true.
“We have not officially been approached,” Garber said. “They never asked the board to come to a meeting and bring a presentation of any kind. But, Craig Dougherty did approach our board president, Tom Kinnison, at least three times unofficially indicating they (the school district) would like to have some money for the project.”
Garber added that Kinnison told Dougherty the recreation facility would not fall under the mission of the Whitney Benefits board. He also said Kinnison ran Dougherty’s request by the Whitney board, which agreed with Kinnison that funding the project would not be allowable under the terms in Whitney’s will.
The unofficial requests were made, Garber said, in the spring and summer months of 2013 and the request was for between $10-20 million.
Had SCSD2 received the requested $20 million in funding from Whitney Benefits and a bond election were held to raise $25 million instead, it would take 77.6 years to pay off the $45 million if one mill were to be levied and just over 19 years if four mills were levied.
Sheridan Press Managing Editor Kristen Czaban contributed to this report.