AZTEC — District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said Wednesday he is disheartened by voters' rejection Tuesday of a property tax that would have supported schools.

"To say it's an necessity is an absolute understatement," Carpenter said of the rejected 2 mill levy. "For us to have mill money is not an option we can do without, we will be planning in the future to look at another mill-levy election."

According to the official results from the San Juan County Clerk's office, 411 votes were cast against continuing the capital improvements tax, which provides about $1.8 million in funding to the Aztec Municipal School District.

Only 273 voters favored the measure. In total, a little more than 6 percent of the 11,087 registered voters in the district cast ballots.

"We've never had a mill levy voted down, never had a bond voted down," Carpenter said. "It's discouraging because 6.19 percent of voters turned out to vote. These are critical issues."

While disappointed by the results, Carpenter said Aztec is a tremendous community and he has enjoyed the 23 years he has worked in the area.

"I respect that person (who voted against the measure), they made a decision and exercised their democratic right," Carpenter said. "(I have) no issues with them, we don't live in their shoes. They made the best decisions they can based on their situation."

Carpenter said the school district hasn't sold the bonds approved in 2012 because they didn't want to boost property taxes again after they were hiked for a previous bond approved in 2008.


And on top of that there was a countywide property tax increase because of the loss of oil and gas revenue.

"The property taxes that went up from the last bond, nobody could have predicted that," Carpenter said, referring to the countywide tax increase. "They (Aztec residents) still do have the lowest tax rate in the county, regardless, they got hit with the tax increase and its something out of our control."

Because of frugal use of mill levy money in previous years, Carpenter said, the district will be able to cover about $1.

4 million in the coming year for the maintenance and technology department budgets -- barring any unforeseen major repairs.

Addressing statements from residents that "the schools need to live within their means" and "they are just going to have to learn to do that," Carpenter said that living within the district's means had included the mill levy money.

"We can't operate two departments given our operational money, it's impossible," Carpenter said. "Even if we try, there is not enough cuts to make. We've made cuts the last five years in the district, we've reduced teacher staff, and reduced educational assistance. We're on a very trim budget."

Approximately 83 percent of the operational budget is dedicated to salaries and benefits, leaving the mill levy money to fund a majority of the maintenance and technology department budgets.

Director of Maintenance Charlie Lee said approximately 92 percent of his budget comes from mill levy money and described the measure's defeat as devastating. Lee said it will change how the district approaches repairs and construction.

"Where we have been aggressive in our maintenance and tried to take care of things in a proactive and preventive way, it will probably result in just doing the things that have to be done in order to maintain our life safety inspections and checks," Lee said. "Meeting health codes, that will be our priority. Then our comfort levels will come in secondary. We'll have to pick and choose what we do."

Carpenter said while certain projects might be put on hold, it could potentially make them a bigger problem down the road if they are unable to pass another mill levy.

"Painting a room that needs it is important but some of those things need to be put on hold while the conditions of those things usually worsens," Carpenter said. "Instead of a little problem, it becomes a bigger, more expensive problem."