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Castle Rock, Toledo voters supporting levies in early ballot returns

Castle Rock special election

A Castle Rock voter, who declined to share his name, drops off a special election ballot outside the Castle Rock library Feb. 9.

Castle Rock and Toledo school district “replacement” tax levies were both leading Wednesday in special elections, according to unofficial ballot returns.

Toledo increased its thin margin by one vote as the count progressed, with eight more “yes” votes than “no” votes Feb. 10.

Castle Rock reported 53.2% of voters in favor of the levy, or 1,447 votes. About 46.8% percent of district voters, which includes portions of Lewis and Cowlitz counties, voted against the levy. That’s 1,272 no votes as of Wednesday.

Toledo was still riding a close vote after Wednesday’s update to the unofficial results. Initial returns Tuesday night showed the measure passing with 50.3% or voters, or 666 people, voting in favor of it. There were 659 “no” ballots cast, or 49.7% of the total.

On Wednesday, Lewis County counted more ballots, updating the “yes” vote count to 731 and the “no” votes to 723 but leaving the percentages unchanged.

Castle Rock Superintendent Ryan Greene called the results exciting and said it was “such a big step in the right direction for us.”

“It’s a big step forward for our community and kids,” he said Tuesday night.

Toledo Superintendent Chris Rust said he was “cautiously optimistic and looking forward to more votes.”

Replacement capital levies are not new taxes, but continuations or increases of an existing tax. Levies help pay for things the districts do not get much state or federal support for and require a simple majority to pass.

Castle Rock School District

Castle Rock voters saw a proposal to increase the capital projects levy to address HVAC problems and improve security after the district failed to pass a bond twice in recent years.

The increase will make the new levy tax rate 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next three years. That would cost the owner of a $250,000 house about $9.16 per month.

In 2014, Castle Rock voters passed a 27 cent capital levy, but Greene said because of the increasing tax base in Castle Rock, homeowners paid just 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2020. That makes the proposed increase about 25 cents over last year.

Castle Rock’s levy will raise $495,272 each year for three years. Greene said that number was settled on by determining how much was needed for projects then working backwards to get the tax rate.

The funds will be used for projects at all schools, including in Vader.

Projects in the 2021-22 school year will include adding secure entry systems at elementary and middle schools, making the elementary school office more secure, adding security doors at the elementary school, upgrading the failing elementary school HVAC system, replacing the 30-year-old-plus carpet at the middle and high school with tile and adding a reader board next to the Vader portable.

The next year, the district plans to replace the decades-old carpet at the elementary school with tile, upgrade the failing HVAC systems at the middle and high schools, enclose the walkway to the middle school band room for more security and install security cameras at Vader.

In the third year of the levy, the district will replace the failing roof at the elementary school, replace the middle and high school PA system and finish paving the Vader parking lot.

Greene said the district would put a team together early next week to make a plan.

“We still have the second half of this year’s taxes to collect in April, so we’ll try to get some of the stuff going this summer instead of waiting for next year,” he said. “It’s so exciting.”

Broken out by county, Cowlitz County voters passed the levy 55.1% to 44.9%, while Lewis County voted down the levy with 60.1% voting against it. Cowlitz County still has about 150 ballots left to count, according to the elections website.

Cowlitz County voters represented the bulk of the initial returns, with nearly 1,400 votes. About 300 Lewis County voters cast ballots in the election.

Overall, Cowlitz County had a 35% turnout, with the bulk of the ballots returned Jan. 25, according to the elections office.

Toledo School District

Toledo asked voters to approve a slight increase in its educational programs and operations levy, which funds extracurricular activities, athletics, drama, music and other programs.

Rust said this year was the closest levy election he had seen, and said the pandemic made for a difficult voting landscape.

“It’s pretty tough because a lot of taxpayers have lost their jobs and are struggling right now,” he said Tuesday night. “I’m just grateful for the folks that did find it in their hearts to vote yes.”

The district’s current two-year educational programs and operations levy will expire at the end of this year. The new three-year replacement will raise an estimated $1.1 million in 2022, $1.15 million in 2023 and $1.2 million in 2024.

The current levy tax rate is $1.49 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and the new levy will raise rates between 11 and 20 cents over the three-year term, which school officials said was largely to keep pace with inflation.

That’s rates of $1.60 to $1.69 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home will pay $400 a year at the $1.60 rate, or about $33 per month.

A levy is not the same as a bond. The Toledo community approved a $7 million bond measure in 2018 to build a new high school, but none of those funds can be used for anything except construction of the new school.

Lewis County saw an overall 34.6% turnout rate in the special election as of Wednesday.

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According to NW Labor Press, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 filed a petition asking the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election for about 160 papermakers at the mill. There are also efforts underway to organize roughly 220 other workers at the mill who work in maintenance, warehouse, fiberline and flexpool.

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