Steady stream of voters turns out for school referendum

Polls open until 8 p.m. at Cape, Mariner, Rehoboth Elementary
Voters crowd the lobby at Cape Henlopen High School to vote in a referendum on a new elementary school. BY DENY HOWETH
April 2, 2014

A steady stream of voters filed into Cape Henlopen High School throughout the morning after polls opened April 2 for the district's elementary school referendum.

Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. at the high school, Mariner Middle School in Milton and Rehoboth Elementary in Rehoboth Beach.

Sussex County Department of Elections Director Ken McDowell, in the busy lobby of Cape Henlopen High School where four polling machines were on hand for voters, said the turnout appeared strong in the first hour.  Bill Carey, who supervises operation of the machines and makes sure they're working well, said more than 200 people voted in the first half hour after the polls opened at 10 a.m.

Voters in favor of building a new 720-student elementary school on Route 24 across from Beacon Middle School agree that the new school is needed to help ease overcrowding at existing four elementary schools.

"I grew up around here, and a new elementary school is needed," said Tricia Ratner of Lewes, who has a high school student at Cape and at Sussex Tech.

Those against the referendum voted no to higher taxes and also questioned whether the district needs to buy more land on top of what it already owns.

"I'm not convinced that it's needed," said Dick McCurdy of Lewes. "Other properties could be utilized."

Voters both for and against the new school agreed that a series of robo-calls sent out asking them to vote against the referendum did nothing to sway their vote.

"It didn't affect my vote," said Charlie Baker of Lewes. "I found it annoying."

In addition to the new elementary school, the $31 million referendum would pay for six new classrooms at both Mariner and Beacon middle schools. The state has agreed to pay 60 percent of total construction costs, leaving residents about $11 million to pay.

The average homeowner with a $250,000 home assessed at $21,546 would pay $59 more a year by 2017. The total tax rate increase would be 27 cents with 10 cents per $100 of assessed property going to capital improvement costs, and another 17 cents for operating expenses. The 10-cent increase would expire after 30 years; the 17 cents would be a permanent tax increase.

McDowell said 5,911 voters cast ballots in the  2006 referendum when voters approved funds for a new high school but voted against funds for a pool. "There were about 1,200 voters in Milton that year and 1,200 in Rehoboth," McDowell said. "The rest were at the high school.  We expect this to be the busiest place. That's why we brought four machines this year compared to three last time around."