Lake County voters

Voters last fall at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point

CROWN POINT — Lake County election officials on Tuesday gave Hammond and Hobart school officials permission to ask voters for millions of dollars Nov. 7.

The five Democratic and Republican elections board members voted unanimously to put public questions on the Hammond and Hobart ballots.

The School City of Hammond will ask voters to authorize borrowing $110.6 million to build a new high school to replace Hammond High, which is more than 100 years old.

That money also would pay for renovations to Eggers Middle, Scott Middle/High, Clark Middle/High, Gavit Middle/High and Morton High schools and to 13 elementary schools.

The construction costs would raise the property tax rate for city property owners by nearly 36 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Hammond school officials also want to raise city property taxes another 44 cents per $100 of assessed value for student instruction. That would generate a total of $70 million over the next seven years.

In Hobart, the School City of Hobart is asking voters' permission to borrow $41.2 million for school improvements for construction of a new elementary school, in addition to improvements to Hobart High School, Hobart Middle School and four elementary schools. It also wants a new city tax rate that will generate $2 million annually, beginning in 2020, to maintain local public funding for student instruction.

The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance requires Hobart's referendum to state it would raise city property taxes by 80 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for construction, and 24.6 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for instruction.

Hobart schools Superintendent Peggy Buffington said Tuesday it actually won't raise local taxes at all. 

She said recent reductions in the cost of serving older debt for the new high school will cancel out the new construction borrowing increase.

She said approving the operations referendum for instruction will cancel estimated loses of $2 million a year to the school district of property taxes reduced under the state's tax cap.

Indiana University's Center for Evaluation & Education Policy states voters have approved about 60 percent of the state's school referendums since 2008.

Earlier this spring, Munster voters approved $6.9 million annually for instruction (operations) and $48 million for school construction, and Lake Station voters agreed to raise $5.6 million annually for instruction. However, East Chicago voters turned down a requested $41 million referendum for school instruction spending.

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.