Proposition 1 asks voters to approve school repair bond

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2000

Behind all the big words, Proposition 1 on the Kenai Peninsula Borough's municipal ballot is about fixing roofs. Specifically, it is about replacing the tops of 10 aging borough school buildings.

The proposition is on the ballot because, for the first time in years, the state is offering the borough a subsidy on repair costs. Under a bill passed in the spring, the state would pay 70 percent of the $7.4 million total.

School district and borough officials are recommending a "yes" vote.

"Essentially, we are getting these improvements at 30 cents on the dollar. It is a good deal for the taxpayer," said Rob Robson, the borough's director of major projects.

The bond would cost the equivalent of $8.90 per year on every $100,000 of assessed real and personal property. The total share for the borough would add up to $2.9 million.

Approval of the bond would not change anyone's tax payment, said Jeff Sinz, the borough's finance director. The new bond is smaller than large bonds from the 1980s that are expiring now.

"Taxes are projected to go down, and this will not affect that," he said.

Although the proposition wording notes that the state's share is subject to annual appropriation, Sinz said he is confident the state will not stick borough taxpayers with an extra bill in years to come. The Legislature's track record shows that it will pay the 70 percent, he said.

Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, supports the measure and agrees.

"I think there has only been one year when that hasn't taken place, and that was during the oil price crash of 1986-87," he said. "This is as close to a guarantee as we get because of our constitution."

The projects on the repair list already have been approved by the school board, borough assembly and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. Voter approval is needed to proceed with the funding.

The projects the bond would fund are:

n Reroofing, costing a total of about $4.8 million, for Kenai and Soldotna middle schools, Nikiski, Paul Banks, Redoubt, Soldotna, Sterling and Tustumena elementary schools, and Moose Pass and Susan B. English schools.

n New insulation, costing about $550,000, for Kenai Central High School;

n Bleacher replacements districtwide, costing about $260,000;

n Boiler replacements, costing about $280,000, at Soldotna High and Redoubt Elementary schools; and

n Expansion of the gymnasium-multipurpose room at Nikolaevsk School, which is operating at 48 percent above capacity, from half-size to regular size, at a cost of about $1.5 million.

By law, funding for buildings and instruction are completely separate, so the bond issue has no effect on funding for teachers or classroom programs.

Dave Spence, the school district's director of planning and operations, said the borough has been falling behind in the growing demand for school maintenance. The school district's "wish list" includes $100 million in facility needs.

The bond is the best chance in a decade to make a dent in the most pressing of those, he said.

Most schools, built in the 1960s and 1970s, still have their original roofs and are showing the strains of aging. Leaks, which have already occurred at some, cause even more expensive damage. Some listed projects have been on the borough's priority lists for decades, he said.

Robson and Spence stressed that the borough will have to do the work even without the bond. But without the bond, the work will be done piecemeal, with more maintenance and repairs along the way and cuts to other borough capital projects. That adds up to poorer school buildings and greater long-term costs for taxpayers, they said.

"These buildings weren't designed (to last) for 50 years," Robson said. "Let's not kid ourselves."

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