Alexandria School Board favors phased-in levy approach
More than an hour into the Alexandria School Board's second work session to address the district's projected budget deficits, board member Dave Anderson cut through the ideas for solutions that were being bandied about — with most asking taxpayers to approve a 10-year operating levy.
"My biggest concern is to get it passed," Anderson said.
That was a common goal among board members Monday night. The questions they were working through involved the details of how to get there.
No formal decisions were made, but in the end the members came to a general consensus for a phased-in operating levy.
They had no interest in asking voters to approve a bond measure to pay for various improvements, from a roof and new boilers and playgrounds to redoing parking lots and securing entrances.
"That complicates it," board member Sandy Susag said, and others agreed.
"If we put up a bond question, I see right away the discussion getting sort of derailed," said board member Alan Zeithamer. He suspected people will think the district should have had a plan in place for fixing that roof. "You want to spend all that money on parking lots, that's a want. Money for classrooms and teachers, that's a need."
Board president Dean Anderson said one of the most important things the board needs to do is to generate some energy for whatever it puts before voters. "That has to come out of something new that's being offered," he said. "Maintaining is not going to do that."
That left an operating levy, and board members directed Superintendent Julie Critz to zero in on one of the three options that were presented Monday and bring it back to the board's regular monthly meeting next Monday night.
Critz was asked to fine-tune dollar amounts that would bring in enough revenue to cover the deficits forecast over the next decade, while remaining within levels that are likely to gain the support of property owners.
Zeithamer believed the option they settled on would satisfy the public by fulfilling that balancing act.
"It demonstrates that we have a plan in place, it's not extravagant, it's very Alexandria-ish," he said in coining a new phrase.
"We've always been good public stewards of the people's money, and they know that," Dave Anderson said.
Whatever they decide on, the proposal has to address the extra students that are expected to attend the district in the coming years.
"How many we can debate, but there's going to be more," Zeithamer said, citing the big apartment building projects that are going up or are being proposed for the Alexandria area. "The people in this community have a real concern about how we're going to address the growing enrollment."
Of the three operating levy choices Critz presented the board, one didn't gain any traction. That was for splitting their plan into a multiple-choice question, where people could vote separately for two or more funding requests.
What emerged as the preferred option would phase in an operating levy over three years. Because the board previously had refinanced bonds at a much lower interest rate, the district will save approximately $430,000 per year beginning in the 2022 fiscal year. One reason for the phase-in was that after the first year, the bond refunding would save the average homeowner about $31 per year.
However, the phase-in plan also drew skepticism initially among some board members, because its tax impact on property owners would be at one rate the first year and another rate the second year, before settling in at yet another rate for years 3-10.
"I love the concept, but is it getting too murky and difficult?" board member Pam Carlson said. She voiced the concern that people may look at the varying tax amounts for the first three years and think that each amount was additional, instead of only the amount for that specific year.
This will look like three tax increases to people, feared board member Bob Cunniff.
Dave Anderson worried that people may see the total levy amount increasing the first three years and mistakenly think it would continue to increase.
Zeithamer told the board that he could not rearrange his schedule and will be out of town for next Monday's board meeting.
"I'm fully in support of this, and I trust you will tweak this and make the adjustments," he said. "This has been a good process."