At its meeting tonight, the Corvallis School District Board of Trustees likely will decide to send a facilities bond measure to voters for their consideration in a May 15 election.
If that doesn't happen tonight, it's virtually a lock that the board will take care of this matter at a meeting sometime in the next couple of weeks. Board members and district employees have had that May 2018 date circled on their calendars for at least a couple of years.
The big remaining question facing board members is this; What should the rate be on this 20-year bond? That rate will determine how much money the measure will raise. It also will determine how much money taxpayers will pay if the measure is approved.
A bit of background: Last year, a district facilities committee recommended a $214 million package, which included replacements for Lincoln School in south Corvallis and Hoover School, along with capital facility improvements (including seismic upgrades) at each of its schools. While the facilities committee did good work, its final report had more than a whiff of a Christmas wish list.
Superintendent Ryan Noss then picked up his red pencil and went to work. When he was done, the list had been whittled to about $206 million; to raise that amount of money, the bond rate would have to be set at $2.02 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. (So, if you own a house with an assessed value of $250,000, that bond rate would cost you about $505 a year.)
For perspective: The district's current 20-year bond expires in 2020. Over the bond's history, the rate has averaged $1.68 — that works out to about $420 a year on that $250,000 house.
But there is some additional sticker shock here that the board needs to consider: Since the district's bond was designed to have a reduced rate in its final years, the rate assessed to taxpayers this current fiscal year is $1.06. (That math works out to $265 for that $250,000 house.)
We don't have any doubts about the need for the vast majority of the work at Corvallis school buildings that would be paid for if voters approve the bond in May. And we don't doubt that it's true what Vincent Adams, the chair of the school board, told a Gazette-Times reporter last week: Adams said most of the public comment he's received about this supports the idea "to fund based on needs."
But here's the point that we would try to keep in mind if we served on the school board: These decisions don't occur in a vacuum. It seems that every time voters get a ballot these days, it features another proposal from one governmental body or another to increase taxes.
In fact, just six months after the May election, it's likely that voters will pass judgment on a proposal to renew a local option levy that pays for city services. That proposal almost certainly will seek an increased rate. And more tax requests loom on the horizon. The arguments in favor of increased city taxes will, in some ways, sound quite similar to the arguments that we'll hear on behalf of the school bond proposal.
This is not to say those arguments won't be valid. But we ask our elected representatives to strike a balance, as difficult and painful it may be, between the real needs of their entities and the real capacity of taxpayers to foot the bill. The school board should work a little harder on that balance. If were on the board, we'd be taking a hard look at setting the bond rate somewhere in the $1.80 range. That doesn't fix all your problems, but they wouldn't all be fixed even with a $214 million measure. But it does send a message to your taxpayer constituents that you understand where the money comes from. (mm)