SOUNDOFF: Rethink bond and remodel plan

The proposed bond plan for the high school remodel is not sound fiscal policy. In addition, it is too expensive, yet incomplete and does not serve the overall best interest of the community.

You can’t get $45 million in bond funding at $0.90 per thousand. By promoting this 16 year bond as a tax increase of $0.90 per thousand, the school district disguises the real cost. The tax rate for the proposed bond rises to $1.20 by 2007, $2.20 by 2014, and has an average annual cost of $1.69 per thousand. By comparison, emulation analysis of a 16 year bond plan with equal annual payments (for each bond lot) would average $1.39 per thousand. The school district’s plan is $6 million more expensive in constant dollars and $13 million more expensive in current dollars. Their back-loaded plan wastes taxpayers’ dollars and places the greatest cost and greatest risk in an uncertain future. This is not sound fiscal policy.

The proposed remodel plan has grown in scope, yet doesn’t address existing needs. As recently as 2000, the high school remodel was estimated at $20 million. Now the price tag is $57 million. The reality is, the school district would get the same $12 million in matching funds from the state if it were a $30 million remodel plan. Therefore, there is $27 million worth of “other stuff” in the current plan. However desirable some of that “other stuff” may be, it is still “other stuff.” As far back as 1997, it was determined that Memorial Stadium could be renovated for about $1.8 million. As far back as 1998, the school district determined there was a need to renovate the maintenance facilities for $2.5 million and transportation facilities for $900,000 . Apparently, those projects were replaced by the $4.4 million purchase and remodel of the AFCU building as the new district office.

Memorial Stadium maintenance and transportation projects are still needed and could be covered by a comprehensive bond package and fiscally sound financial plan. However, since these projects don’t qualify for construction fund match, the superintendent plans to ask for a 70-cent increase in the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) levy to get M&O matching funds to pay for these projects. Interesting idea, however if that logic is sound, then why not pay for some of that “other stuff” in the high school remodel plan out of M&O matching funds.

Finally, the high school remodel plan does nothing to contribute to a community effort to preserve history and improve downtown Oak Harbor. In fact, it does the opposite. It eliminates 50 years of high school football tradition at Memorial Stadium. Worse, it fails to build on a Harbor Pride proposal to bring Memorial Stadium to the foreground at the intersection of Whidbey and Midway. In addition, the current plan removes sports venues from downtown Oak Harbor and shifts those venues to the far west side of town. If citizens in this community are serious about preserving the historic nature of Oak Harbor and enhancing small business growth in the downtown area, they must be willing to allocate scarce resources in a manner that accommodates both school and community needs.

The current high school bond proposal is not fiscally sound, too expensive, does not address all existing needs, is not in the best interest of the community as a whole and should be rejected.

Scott Hornung is a former school board director and a 46-year resident of North Whidbey.

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