Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Cost a key issue in bond vote

March 31, 2005

One of the most contentious facets of the proposed Lansing school bond issue is the cost - what it will cost taxpayers and what the district will receive in return.

The $23.6 million price tag for the bond issue includes a new kindergarten through fifth-grade school and a 900-seat auditorium. Supporters say it's a prudent investment for the community; opponents say it's too much money, too much of a tax increase and too expensive for the community.

The issue will be decided at the polls on Tuesday.

Lansing Schools Superintendent Randal Bagby hit the ground running with the bond proposal when he came to the district in July. When he arrived, the studies on the facilities had been completed, and he began the decision process of determining how to meet the needs and prioritize them, he said.

Bagby said his original goal for the bond proposal to stay under $20 million, a figure he chose by looking at the defeated 2003 bond issue proposal and adjusting for inflation. The previous bond proposal was for an elementary school for third through fifth grades and an auditorium and auxiliary gym for the high school. Its price tag was $16.8 million.

He said the question he asked himself was, "What would meet all our needs and have the least amount of impact?"

After meeting with the Wilson and Company, Engineers and Architects, and financial adviser Piper Jaffray, he found out that with a $23.6 million bond issue, the district could build a new elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as an addition to the high school of an auditorium and band room.

With the growth in Lansing that had occurred since the 2003 proposal, he said the tax burden would be spread out, give more to the district, meet all the district's needs and be cheaper to the individual taxpayer.

Bagby said he chose a 20-year bond to make the tax impact less and to take further advantage of low interest rates.

The cost of the proposed 147,000-square-foot building elementary school is $19.2 million. Construction costs make up $13.9 million of the budget. Site development fees for the 27.5-acre site are put at $1.65 million. The cost of fixed furniture - cabinetry, marker boards and tack boards, library shelving and furniture, bleachers, food service equipment, gymnasium equipment, stage curtains, lighting and sound systems -is $1.14 million.

Some items that are not included in the budget include classroom and office furniture, dining tables and playground equipment. Bagby said many of these items would be transferred from the old buildings; additional equipment will be bought with funds earmarked for such items.

The high school addition comprises $4.4 million of the proposed bond issue. Its budget calls for $3.2 million for construction, remodeling of the building where the addition will be attached and site development. Included in this cost are fees for paving a new bus drive west of the high school and replacing the existing street north of the football field so it will be aligned with the new parking.

The addition would take up about 25,780 square feet and displace some current parking spaces. New parking to accommodate about 60 additional vehicles will be built around the addition.

The budget for furniture and equipment in the addition, including auditorium seating, stage curtains, lighting and sound system, is $443,000.

To pay for the bond, the levy on the bond and interest fund would increase 3.773 mills. Greg Vahrenberg of Piper Jaffray said favorable interest rates and the increase in property valuations brought the projected levy down from his original estimate of 6.4 mills.

Vahrenberg also recommended selling the bonds in May if the issue passes to lock in at what he calls the current low interest rate.

With the 3.773 mill levy, the additional taxes on a $150,000 house would be about $65 per year or about $5.50 per month.

Commercial property is assessed at a higher rate for tax purposes than residential real estate; thus a $100,000 business would see a tax increase of about $93 per year or $7.75 per month. A mill is $1 in property taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

Ali Zeck, a member of the steering committee for the bond issue, said her family would pay about $115 more per year for the bond issue. She said though her family would feel the effect, "the rewards we will see cannot even be measured."

"We'll see it coming out of our pockets," she said, "but the return on our investment far exceeds the amount that may come out every year."

Betty Klinedinst, however, feels differently about the bond. Klinedinst, a Lansing school board member from 1997 to 2001, estimated that her family would pay about $100 per year for the bond issue.

She said her main problem with the current bond issue was the uncertainty in what will happen at the state level. While the Legislature decides how to meet its court mandate to increase school funding, she said, "it's a big question mark" as to how its plans will affect taxpayers, including young families and retirees.

"We cannot continue to tax," she said. "If we continue to tax, our young families will not be able to get started. : I don't want to see retirees forced out of their homes because of taxes because they helped make this community."

A Lansing High School alumna and lifetime resident of the area, Klinedinst said Lansing was near and dear to her heart. But she said she would like to see fiscal responsibility both in the district and at the state level.

"I want to see the district and state balance their budgets and live on available funding," she said.

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