Voting on school bond and tax measures

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Laws about
school bonds and taxes
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The conduct of local school district bond and tax ballot measure elections varies from state-to-state.

States

Alabama

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Alabama

Alabama requires a ballot measure to issue new bonding or issue special school taxes which is protected by the Alabama Constitution. Alabama is one of a handful of states that protect its tax and debt limits through the state constitution. Alabama also allows citizens to petition for special one and three mill tax increases. Upon successful petition, it is up to a probate judge to approve such an election.

Alaska

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Alaska

Alaska is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia that do not require elections for school bond and tax votes. All bonding for new projects are considered by the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. All bonds and major maintenance grants are awarded through two funds that are for new bonds and major renovations. How revenue is made into the funds is proceeds from general issue bond sales along with legislative appropriation every fiscal cycle. Each school district must justify the need for the bonds along with a multi-year capital improvement plan. The State Department of Education has the authority to approve or deny part or all of an application.

Arizona

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Arizona

Arizona requires school districts to hold elections for issuing new bonds or to override a school district budget. School districts are given up to five percent to override on a school district budget. Any override over five percent needs voter approval. Override is similar to exceeding a levy limit which is commonly called in other states. Arizona laws require school districts to have a substitute budget on hand in the event a budget override measure gets defeated. Arizona also has a debt limit protected by the Arizona Constitution with regular school districts having a six percent debt limit while unified school districts have a thirty percent limit based on the district's total value of taxable property.

California

Main articles: Parcel tax elections in California, School bond elections in California

Colorado

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Colorado

Colorado has two different types of ballot measures that are required under two different laws. The first is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights from 1992, which became Section 20 of Article 10 of the Colorado Constitution. Under TABOR, local voter approval is required if the school district wants to exceed its tax levy above the normal rate of inflation set by the consumer price index. The second law is the School Finance Act of 1994. Under the act, voter approval is required when a school district wants to exceed the limit for raising its Total Program Budget. The Total Program Budget is a combined budget that includes the district's general fund, special education and other costs. A school district that wants to exceed the previous year's Total Program Budget by more than 125% must put a plan before the voters. This type of ballot measure has rarely been used; it is considered to be a last resort option.

Colorado law imposes limits on when school districts can hold special elections. Colorado only allows special elections in even numbered years on pre-established general and primary election days in May and November. In odd-numbered years, special school district elections can only occur on the first Tuesday in November.

School districts that want to exceed their TABOR limit can sometimes combine this request with a city TABOR request.

Connecticut

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Connecticut

In Connecticut, the voters of a school district must approve the district's budget on a annual basis. Connecticut is like New Jersey in which they are the only two states in the nation to require school district budgets to be approved by voters. If the referendum is defeated, then the school board must approve a new budget within a time frame mandated by Connecticut law. Also, voters in a municipality can approve bond issues for private academies recognized by the Connecticut Department of Education. If an academy defaults on its bond obligations, then all aid payments are withheld until the default is cured. Also, Connecticut requires state approval for public school bonding and capital projects, but do not require voter approval.

Delaware

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Main article: School bond and tax elections in Delaware

In Delaware, school districts are required to have elections to approve excess or reduced tax levies or to issue new bonding. Delaware is one of a handful of states that require school districts to seek approval from state government as part of the process of approving a bond issue. All bond issues must approved by the Delaware Attorney General before an election is called by the respective school board. Delaware has the least restrictive requirements in the nation for conducting an election because there are no mandatory notice requirement. Also, Delaware considers all school finance elections as special elections. Delaware school districts can also ask the voters for an additional surtax of ten percent to cover delinquencies in addition to whatever tax increase they ask the voters for.

District of Columbia

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Washington, D.C.

There are no school bond or tax elections in Washington, D.C. Because of Washington, D.C. Public Schools under the control of the Mayor, the Chief Financial Officer of D.C. Public Schools in consultation with the Mayor sends a capital improvement plan to the City Council annually. It is up to the City Council to approve the plan with the Mayor's final signature to have the plan become law. All capital improvement plans must be audited on a regular basis to make sure benchmarks including if the project is on time and spending are consistently met.

Florida

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Florida

In Florida, referendums are required for school districts wanting to exceed the state's millage limit and to issue new bonds. Florida is one of a few states that has a debt limit that is protected by their state constitution. The Florida Constitution sets a 10 mill limit for all school districts. The school district can only ask the voters to increase the millage in either two or four year increments. Florida allows new bond issues for school districts, but for only capital improvements. School bond and school millage elections are run differently in Florida. Bond elections are fully run by the school district while a millage election is run by the respective county election commission. Florida law requires millage elections to be run under the same rules conducted for general elections.

Georgia

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Georgia

In Georgia, the major provisions covering school bond and tax elections are protected by the Georgia Constitution. Georgia has a 20 mill levy limit protected by the state constitution. School districts can only have a referendum in order to exceed the levy limit or eliminate the levy itself. Also, Georgia funds capital outlays differently than other states using a county sales tax. The voters in a respective county can vote to approve an additional sales and use tax of one percent to fund school district capital outlays. Georgia allows capital outlays to be used for capital improvements to facilities and for retirement of all debts. A county can only use the sales tax for five years after the date it is first implemented.

Hawaii

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Hawaii

Hawaii is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia to not have school bond and tax elections. The Hawaii Constitution has a mandated bond issue law in which the Hawaii Legislature approves bond issues for school districts for both public and private schools. The Constitutional requirement also mandates that school districts that use special purpose revenue bonds. Under the requirement, the issuer enters into a contract with the seller of the bonds in which they promise to make a good faith effort to pay down the interest and principal of the bonds.

Illinois

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Illinois

Illinois mandates school districts to hold elections issuing bonding for new construction and capital improvements, exceeding the property tax cap, or create a working cash fund. Since 2006, Illinois has had referendums over the property tax cap which is governed under the Illinois Property Tax Cap Act of 2006 which requires voter approval if a school district wants to exceed their property tax cap for up to four years. The other type of referendum is a Chapter 20 referendum. Under Chapter 20, a school district must have voter approval if the voters petition a school district to create a working cash fund to pay liabilities. Only school districts that serve a city, town, or village less than 500,000 in population can hold a Chapter 20 referendum.

Indiana

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Indiana

In Indiana, a ballot measure is required for school districts to exceed the property tax revenue limit, to issue new bonding for new construction or capital improvements, or to issue new property taxes to pay the mandatory excess property tax credit. This is done through exceeding the referendum tax levy. Indiana sets strict time frames on elections in which six months must elapse at minimum when a school board approves a resolution calling an election to election day. Indiana requires school districts to wait exactly one year if a referendum is defeated before re-starting the process of issuing a ballot question to the district's voters. Also, Indiana sets maximum caps on bonding for capital improvement projects and new construction by putting bonding into three classes. This prevents voters from dealing with the prospect of high priced bond referendums which are common in neighboring states. Indiana also issues excess property tax credits to taxpayers if a school district's property tax revenue exceeds a set threshold depending on property class.

Iowa

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Iowa

Iowa like other states requires a ballot measure if a school district exceeds the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) limit and to issue new bonding. Iowa has a school district budget growth limit which is set by the Iowa Legislature and approved by the Governor of Iowa when the Iowa State Budget is deliberated. The current growth rate for public schools statewide is at four percent.

Kansas

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Kansas

Kansas requires ballot questions for issuing new bonding and exceeding the capital outlay levy cap. In Kansas, no capital outlay levy can exceed five years in length without voter approval. Also, ballot questions are mandatory in Kansas for issuing new bonds. In Kansas, a school district cannot have more than fourteen percent of its debt come from bonds. Kansas is one of a handful of states that requires school districts to seek approval from the state government before having a ballot question presented to the voters to issue new bonds.

Kentucky

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Kentucky

Kentucky only allows for elections for bond issues. The Kentucky Constitution gives school districts the rights to hold elections freely at any time and without any minimum notice requirement. The law also states that bond issues are only limited to new construction and capital improvements. There are no restrictions on selling terms or maturity. However, Kentucky law bans referendums for the building of new athletic facilities.

Louisiana

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Louisiana

Louisiana requires ballot propositions for elections that involve bond issues, special school taxes, and retailing consumption taxes to fund education. All of Louisiana's requirements for ballot propositions involving bond issues, special school, and retailing consumption taxes are protected in the Louisiana Constitution. Louisiana is very restrictive on when school districts can place ballot propositions as the allowable dates differ on the year of the election.

Maine

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Maine

In Maine, school districts are required to have elections to approve a budget or to issue new bonding and or bond taxes. Regional school districts have budgets set on a triennial basis (every three years) while school administrative units approve their budgets annually. New Hampshire is one of three states along with New Jersey and Connecticut requiring the annual or triennial budget to be approved by the voters. If a budget is not approved by the voters, it is up to the board to come up with another budget that will be approved by the voters. Also, Maine bans below part sale of bonds issued for public school construction. Maine allows bond issues sold at or above its normal par value.

Maryland

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Maryland

Under Maryland law, all new bonding for school districts and extensions to tax levies must be approved by the respective County Board of Commissioners where the district resides. Maryland is one of three states to structure their school districts at the county level over individual municipalities. Only Nevada and South Carolina align their school districts countywide. The only part of the state that requires bond elections is Baltimore County. Only the County Executive of Baltimore County can call for a bond election. Maryland is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia that restricts school bond and tax elections.

Massachusetts

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia that do not require elections involving school bonds or taxes. School districts are required to seek approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority in order to receive any bonding or other aid in completing capital projects. The Commission requires school districts to seek the most cost-efficient proposal possible when considering applications for financing capital projects. A formula is used to determine which districts receive funding. Priority is given to school districts facing overcrowding, building issues, or to be in compliance with a state or federal court order.

Michigan

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Michigan

Michigan requires ballot question elections if a school district wants to issue new bonding or exceed the sinking fund levy limit or property tax cap set by law. Michigan law restricts how school districts can use excess levy limit election proceeds if approved. Also, Michigan has some of the toughest school bond laws in the nation requiring approval by the Michigan School Bond Qualification and Loan Program which is guaranteed by the Michigan Constitution. Michigan is one of a handful of states that uses the mill rate formula over a lengthy mathematical formula in expressing the property tax cap. The cap protected by the Michigan Property Tax Limitation Act of 1933.

Minnesota

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Minnesota

Minnesota requires a ballot measure to issue new bonding for schools, to exceed the revenue cap, or to equalize a levy. Minnesota only mandates a simple majority for passing school bond ballot measures, however the measures must be placed in a goldenrod ballot separate from the main ballot during an election. Also, citizens are granted the right to petition for special elections related to school bonds.

Mississippi

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Mississippi

Mississippi is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia that does not require elections involving school bonds and taxes. All capital improvements for public schools are funded by the Mississippi Public School Building Fund in which require loans. The Mississippi Legislature makes all appropriations to the fund when the state budget is deliberated on. All bond issues are approved by the Mississippi Bond Commission. Mississippi is limited on issuing bonds to $100 million dollars at one time. It is up to the commission to issue bonds within the $100 million dollar limit. All bonds are capped at seven percent interest with a twenty year maturity.

Missouri

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Missouri

Missouri mandates four types of school bond and tax elections. First is to issue new bonding for capital improvements and new construction and also if a school district wants to exceed its debt limit known as a debt ceiling. Also, elections are required if a school district wants to exceed a basic operating levy. The basic operating levy and the debt ceiling levy differ as the debt ceiling is a limit on all outstanding levies in a school district. Lastly, if a school district wants to revise a existing levy to increase or decrease it, a Proposition C referendum is mandated. Proposition C is protected by the Missouri Constitution. There are tough super majority requirements as a bond issue requires a four-sevenths vote (57.15%) while any referendum involving exceeding the levy cap, debt ceiling levy, or a Proposition C levy referendum requires a two-thirds super majority vote (66.7%) for approval. Missouri is one of a few states that requires super-majority approval from the voters to approve a ballot measure related to school finance.

Nebraska

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Nebraska

Nebraska mandates ballot questions for three different types of school finance issues. Elections are mandated for exceeding the Maximum Levy Cap, the growth rate, and issuing new bonding. Nebraska is one of few states that use a growth rate or revenue cap to limit the amount of revenue school districts can bring in from assessing property taxes. The growth rate is 4.5% which includes a base limit of 1.5% and an additional 3% the district can go over. Nebraska has a maximum levy limit law, but similar to North Dakota and West Virginia they have different levy caps for different classes of property. Nebraska allows school districts to issue new bonding for new construction and capital improvements. All bond issues in Nebraska must have voter approval too.

New Jersey

Main article: School bond and tax elections in New Jersey

New Jersey is one of two states that require voter approval for a school district's annual budget. The budget must be approved by voters during a specially designated school election in April. Also, New Jersey strictly mandates that if any school district seeks to do capital improvements must have the approval of the district's voters. All bond funding is guaranteed through the New Jersey Public Schools Loan Assistance Fund. In order to keep operating, the State of New Jersey must have $105 million on hand at the bare minimum to issue bonds during every fiscal cycle. Also, a ballot question is required if a school district seeking to exceed its levy limits does not get authorization from the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to exceed its limit. A three-fifths (60%) super majority is required for levy limit elections while bond referendums require a simple majority.

Nevada

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Nevada

In Nevada, a bond election is mandated if a school district needs to exceed the fifteen percent debt limit set by Nevada law. Also, if a school district wants to issue bonding to build new facilities or improve existing ones, voter approval is required. Nevada is a initiative and referendum state that requires a citizen petition before any ballot measure can be placed.

New Hampshire

Main article: School bond and tax elections in New Hampshire

New Hampshire does not require school districts to seek voter approval to issue new bonding. New Hampshire is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia to not require school bond or tax elections. All bonding is approved by the New Hampshire School Building Authority. A five person board determines all school funding requests. The State of New Hampshire guarantees $95 million per a fiscal cycle for issuing new bonds. If a school district has bonding approved by the Authority, the Authority must review the project with similar projects in the past against the school district's needs to determine how much money is awarded. Also, the Authority must review requests within the $95 million dollar limit.

New Mexico

Main article: School bond and tax elections in New Mexico

The New Mexico Constitution guarantees a debt limit and how bonds are issued for school districts. In New Mexico, a public school district can only seek new bonding for the purpose of capital improvements. School districts are limited to seeking bonds limited to six percent of the district's total valuation of property. Also, the New Mexico Constitution guarantees a 20 mill limit on public school districts.

New York

Main article: School bond and tax elections in New York

New York allows for elections involving bond issues and the state debt limit for cities under 120,000 in population. The New York Constitution has a protected debt limit for all school districts. In school districts that have referendums, they are limited to five percentum of the total valuation of property in the district. In other cities including Syracuse, Albany, and New York City, the debt limit varies from six to ten percentum of the district's total valuation of property.

North Carolina

Main article: School bond and tax elections in North Carolina

In North Carolina, school districts are only required to hold elections if a school district needs to exceed debt limits mandated by the North Carolina Constitution. North Carolina is one of eleven states that has a constitutionally mandated debt limit for school districts. Under North Carolina law, a school district cannot take debt that exceeds two-thirds of their current debt without voter approval. The provision in the Constitution is for all local government units including school districts. However, North Carolina does not mandate elections for bond issues and exceeding levy caps. The Board of County Commissioners in where the school district is located have the power to approve a school district's budget or tax levy. All bond issues for school districts must be approved by the state government.

North Dakota

Main article: School bond and tax elections in North Dakota

In North Dakota, voting can occur on three different kinds of school tax levy ballot measures:

  • General fund levy-This is for basic funding of the school districts operations such as maintenance costs, teacher salaries and basic operating costs.
  • Capital Improvement levy-This is to fund new construction and capital improvements for school districts as this is a separate levy.
  • Distance Learning fund levy-This levy is designed for school districts to create a levy only for distance learning programs.

North Dakota is one of a few states to have tough super majority requirements for voter approval. Any levy for capital improvements must have a three-fifths (60%) super-majority vote while any general fund levy election question must have a fifty-five percent super majority. A distance learning levy only requires a simple majority.

Ohio

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Ohio

Ohio is one of a handful of states that expresses its property tax cap limit in the amount of mills using the mill rate formula over an mathematical formula. Ohio has a ten mill limit that is protected by the Ohio Constitution since 1953. Also, Ohio requires approval for any new bonding by the Ohio School Facilities Commission. Ohio uses an adjusted valuation per-pupil formula to determine which districts should get bonding. Districts with the lowest ratings are given first consideration in the process of getting a bond issue approved.

Oklahoma

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Oklahoma

Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that expresses its property tax cap limit using the mill rate formula over an mathematical formula. Oklahoma has a five mill limit that is protected by the Oklahoma Constitution. Oklahoma is different from other states as they use the five mill limit for issuing bonds, bond taxes, and exceeding the levy limit. Oklahoma requires a three-fifths (60%) super-majority vote to approve bond referendums while referendums involving the five mill limit only require a simple majority vote.

Oregon

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Oregon

In Oregon, ballot questions are required when a school district if a school district wants to issue bonding, exceed the property tax cap protected by the Oregon Constitution, and exceed the Oregon Mill Rate. Oregon school districts cannot issue bonds that exceed more than thirteen percent of the district's total debt valuation. The Oregon Constitution has a property tax limit of three percent which has been in place since 1997. Also, Oregon allows excess mill rate elections upon citizen petition.

Pennsylvania

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania requires bond elections for exceeding the property tax ceiling or issuing new bonding. There are two major laws govern school finance in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Special Session Act of 2006 covers the property tax ceiling as school districts are required to have a referendum if it exceeds a index set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education which changes every year. However, there are causes including court orders, and emergencies that districts are exempt under the law. Also, the cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Scranton are exempt from the 2006 law.

The Pennsylvania Local Government Unit Debt Act of 1996 covers all bond issues in the State of Pennsylvania. Both laws are different on the required notice for a election and the mandatory elapsed period between when a school district approves a resolution and an election. There is also a mandatory cooling off period of 155 days for re-issuing a ballot question for a bond issue while the Special Session Act of 2006 mandates no cooling off period for re-issuing ballot questions on the property tax ceiling.

Rhode Island

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Rhode Island

There are no school bond and tax elections in Rhode Island. Rhode Island is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia to not hold school bond or tax elections. The local governments are responsible for providing with buildings for public schools which requires local approval along with approval from the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that all buildings are complaint with Rhode Island's strict technology standards.

South Carolina

Main article: School bond and tax elections in South Carolina

In South Carolina, two types of elections are mandated involving school finance. South Carolina requires ballot questions to issue new bonding and to exceed the fifteen mill levy limit. South Carolina is one of a handful of states that expresses levy caps using the basic mill rate formula over a lengthy mathematical formula. South Carolina runs all school bond elections as special elections regardless on which date the election is held.

South Dakota

Main article: School bond and tax elections in South Dakota

Under South Dakota law, school districts are required to hold elections for bonding issued through capital outlays. However, South Dakota does not require elections for school districts seeking to exceed the levy cap. South Dakota requires a three-fifths (60%) super-majority vote in order to approve a bond measure. Also, school districts that have voter approved capital outlay certificates are required to follow a five year plan. South Dakota strictly mandates a five year plan that discloses how school districts will spend capital outlay funds if the measure is approved by the voters.

Tennessee

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Tennessee

Tennessee is one of eight states along with the District of Columbia that does not hold school bond or school tax referendums. Under Tennessee law, all tax levies must be certified by the county in which the school district resides in. Also, all bonds in Tennessee must be sold at 98 percent of its value or higher with zero (0%) percent interest. All bonding must be approved by the Tennessee State Funding Board.

Texas

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Texas

Texas is different from other states as they only do elections to issue new bonds or to raise taxes on current bonds. Texas is one of a few states that do not set caps on property tax levies. Texas is one of the least restrictive states in the nation on how school districts can place measures on the ballot.

Utah

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Utah

Utah has a state mandated debt limit for school districts that is protected in the Utah Constitution. Under Utah law, the Constitution mandates that the total amount of revenue a school district brings in the previous year is their revenue limit the next year. Also, Utah requires an election for all bond issues. Utah uses a sinking fund to fund bond issues in relation to new construction, capital improvements, and acquiring property. Bonding in Utah cannot be used to retire debt or pay off other liabilities.

Vermont

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Vermont

There are no school bond and tax elections in Vermont. Vermont is one of nine states along with the District of Columbia to not have school bond or tax elections. All bond issues and requests to raise tax levies are the authority of the Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Agency. It is up to the agency to freely set the terms of all bond issues including interest, selling terms, maturity, and restrictions on successive bond issues. There is a remedy clause if any party defaults on bond obligations, but the State of Vermont is immune from being held liable in the case of default via litigation.

Virginia

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Virginia

Virginia is different from other states as the state does not assess property taxes at the statewide level. The mandate for a ballot question for issuing new bonding or to extend a bond depends on who proposes the ballot question. If a county wants to provide bonding to two or more school divisions a ballot question is required. If the request comes from a single school division or from a individual municipal government, no ballot question is required.

Washington

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Washington

Washington State is one of eleven states that has a debt limit protected by the Washington Constitution. Washington mandates that school districts can only take in one percent for general debt and up to five percent for capital outlays without voter approval. Washington State requires a election for all bond issues exceeding three-eights of one percent of taxable property. School districts are treated equally with other units of municipal government in the state's bond issue laws. Bond issues can be used for capital improvements and new construction only. School districts cannot use bonds to retire debt or fund other obligations.

West Virginia

Main article: School bond and tax elections in West Virginia

West Virginia requires school districts to put a question on the ballot for exceeding the levy cap, issuing new bonding and or bond taxes. In West Virginia, levy caps are set on four different classes of property in which results in four different levy limits. In order to pass a levy cap election, a simple majority is required. Any election that requires new bonding or bond taxes must pass through a super-majority of three-fifths (60%) to gain voter approval. Also, school districts are required to have a cost estimate from civil engineer and have approval of the West Virginia Attorney General before having bonds issued.

Wisconsin

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a revenue cap that limits the amount of property tax revenue school districts can bring in. If any school district wants to exceed revenue limits, they are required to have a ballot measure. Wisconsin also requires ballot measures for any school bonding that exceeds $1 million dollars. However, Wisconsin has generous exemptions for school districts required to hold bond elections. School districts are exempt from voter approval to issue new bonding if a district is ordered by a state or federal court to remove hazardous substances or to be in compliance with fire standards. Also, school districts are exempt from bond elections if they are purchasing or detaching property from a former consolidated school district.

Wyoming

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Wyoming

Wyoming has three different kinds of school finance elections which are for bond issues, creating or repaying a building fund, or to issue a special tax for adult education programs. In Wyoming, bond issues are only allowed for capital improvements, renovations, or new construction of school facilities. Bonding cannot be used to retire debt or pay other obligations. Wyoming also has an election requirement for school districts if they want to issue a new tax up to two and a half mills to help create new adult education programs. Building funds can be created for school districts on voter approval. However, a certain amount of money must be raised consistently over a number of years to establish a building fund.

See also

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