Batavians for Responsible Government has begun their education campaign on the Batavia School District’s $15 million referendum. Yard signs are now popping up around town.
The focus on debt was chosen because whichever way the school district may spin it, issuing bonds creates debt that has to be paid back with interest. Whether those bonds are paid directly through taxes to a separate account, as with general obligation bonds, or indirectly through taxes to the school district’s Operations and Maintenance Fund, which are then diverted to pay back alternate revenue bonds, bonds = debt, and taxes are used to pay it. There are no magic money trees on school district property.
If you own a home, you know that sometimes there are instances where you may need to refinance your mortgage or take out a home equity loan. Most people don’t make this decision lightly, reserving it for major home repairs, e.g., to replace your roof or to build an addition for a growing family or aging parents. These options result in more money being paid out over extended periods of time.
The School Board is now asking voters to approve the borrowing and spending of $15 million for 2 artificial turf athletic fields and assorted capital projects. We taxpayers will pay the $15 million back over 20 yrs, at an estimated $1.2 million/yr, assuming $9 million in added interest. Just over half of that is for “low priority” items–i.e., the athletic fields. “The athletic field redevelopment plan has been incorporated into the following capital needs budget as low priority items,” reads the 2014 Comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan, p. 18. As one BRG member astutely put it, this $15 million referendum is like refinancing your home to put in a jacuzzi.
Of the remainder of the $15 million list, there are 24 “high” priority items and 2 “medium”. How many other costly “high” and “medium” priority projects got bumped for the “low” priority athletic fields? How many of those “medium” items will become “high”, and “high” reach emergency status, over the 20 yr term of the bonds when there is no more money to pay for them?
Assistant Superintendent of Finance, Dr. Kris Monn, estimates the bonds can be paid off at the rate of $1.2 million/yr out of an annual $1.5 million budget. That leaves $300,000/yr for all those other “high” and “medium” priority items. But if you calculate in the newly signed lease for the maintenance shed, a capital project, for $144,000/yr, that $300,000 becomes $156,000. Then if they were to save, as they should, $100,000/yr for the replacement cost of 2 artificial turf fields every 8-10 yrs (
$400,000 $500,000 per field), suddenly we’re down to $56,000/yr for all those items. Total capital projects are estimated to amount to over $32 million by 2024, half way through the term of the bonds. After spending the referendum’s $15 million, there would still be $17 million in projects, with only $56,000/yr to spend on them. Hmmm…. Do you see a problem?
Without the $13 million Athletics Field Redevelopment Plan, the list of capital projects can be budgeted; with the Plan, there is no way that necessary capital projects can be covered without raising taxes in some form. Bonds provide instant gratification for a handful of projects in the short term, but set up citizens for greater economic burden, and perhaps even more bonded debt down the road. So the question voters are facing boils down to: Do you want your taxes raised to pay for unnecessary athletic fields and artificial turf?
Given the already-high property taxes faced by residents of the Batavia School District, Batavians for Responsible Government believe the $15 million referendum is not in the best interest of the district’s taxpayers, and urge citizens to vote NO.