To reduce the "sticker shock" of a $36 million bond, the Moffat County School District Board of Education decided Thursday to look at what $25 million can buy in facility upgrades.
The board has been working with Neenan Archistruction and RBC Dain Rauscher on developing a bond issue and campaign for up to $36 million in recommended repairs and upgrades for the November election.
But following a presentation Thursday that revealed the results of a community survey, the board wasn't sure asking voters for the full amount is a good idea.
"If the election were held today, this measure would lose," the report read.
The survey, completed by Hill Research Consultants, polled 302 active odd-year voters within the school district on April 14 and 15 via telephone. Government officials, school employees and members of the media and their families were not eligible to participate.
The company asked respondents whether they would support a $36 million bond. Forty-one percent of respondents said 'yes,' 51 percent said 'no' and 9 percent had no opinion. Of all respondents, 41 percent gave it a strong no.
"I think at the price tag of $36 million, we're not going to get it," board member Trish Snyder said.
At the end of the 15-minute interview, after asking about specific projects and informing the respondent of the district's needs, respondents still replied with a 'no' vote, though by a narrower margin. Strong no answers remained at 41 percent.
Respondents cited complying with safety codes, maintenance, addressing program deficiencies and improving heat and ventilation systems as their top priorities. Air conditioning, building a new middle school and replacing Moffat County High School's indoor swimming pool were their lowest priorities, the latter by a significant margin.
The board agreed it could drop the pool and air conditioning from its original bond plan, but the board struggled with eliminating a new middle school.
"Do you back off a little bit in what you put in the middle school?" Superintendent Pete Bergmann said. "Then you're saying we're putting a lesser amount of money in our most needy facility."
Craig Middle School was built 60 years ago, and Neenan representatives said they build structures to last 50.
A new middle school would cost $14 million. Maintenance on the existing building reaches $8 million.
So the board asked Neenan to set $25 million as its new plan target while including a new middle school, reducing deferred maintenance expenses to $10 million and leaving air conditioning and the pool out.
A $25 million bond would cost taxpayers an estimated $58 per year on a $150,000 home.
Due to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and Gallagher Amendment, school district taxes decrease as property values increase. So a homeowner with property valued at $139,000 in 2002 paid $459 a year in school taxes. The homeowner in the same house, valued at $170,000 in 2006, then paid $349.
So district officials argue school taxes will not reach the amount they were a few years ago with the possible bond issue.
With dollars broken down to yearly rates, the board debated the decision to not ask for the full $36 million.
"I don't think we should be short-sighted and not go for the whole ball of wax," board member Steve Hafey said.
However, with a history of local voters not passing tax issues the first time around, the board thinks asking for a lower amount might increase the measure's likelihood of passing.
"I think we're making a leap that (the 'no' responses are) going to go down as that number goes down," district finance director Mark Rydberg said. "Once you go out, you've got to go out with what number you think is best because once you go out, you can never go up."
Administrators meet Tuesday with Neenan architects to begin drawing up detailed plans priced at $25 million. Bergmann will present the board with those plans at the May meeting.
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.