Friday, January 15, 2010

Public supports levy spending

Majority favors using money now rather than later

Express Staff Writer

Former Trustee Alexandra Sundali speaks at the hearing Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

Public sentiment was largely favorable Wednesday night toward a Blaine County School District proposal for advance spending of future tax revenues from last year's voter-approved plant facilities levy.

"We need to take the money now," said former school Trustee Alexandra Sundali. "Doing otherwise would be foolish. Moving forward with these projects now will help our community a lot."

Sundali was one of 22 Blaine County residents who offered testimony at a public hearing for a district proposal to borrow on future tax revenues from the $59.8 million, 10-year levy approved in October. The hearing was legally required under Idaho's Judicial Confirmation Law, which the district is using for authorization to borrow on future levy revenues.

About 60 people attended the hearing at the district office in Hailey.

Rather than waiting to receive levy revenue, the district would like to get started on several projects this spring to take advantage of lower costs and currently available government incentives that could lead to little or no interest payments on money borrowed. Immediate district priorities are development of geothermal resources for school building heating and starting construction on a new storage and maintenance facility and a cafeteria for Bellevue Elementary School.

"Now's the time to do it because the labor is definitely cheaper," said Ted Higginbotham, a local contractor who acknowledged that he is "looking for some of this work."

Higginbotham was one of many local contractors who attended the hearing. They were mainly supportive of the proposal, though a few said they are skeptical of district promises that work will be given to local companies.

Jess Goitiandia said he became certified for installing Promethean boards (large computer interactive display panels used for teaching) and made installations at The Community School but that installations for the school district were done by an out-of-state vendor.

"Here I am as an example of spending locally, but it didn't go local, it went to Utah," Goitiandia said.

Local contractor John Rutherford said he supports the proposal, primarily for development of geothermal resources to save money and reduce carbon emissions.

"An energy penny saved is a penny saved for education," Rutherford said.

Ketchum resident Lyman Drake testified that he is upset that critics have tried to portray the proposal as "education dollars versus facility dollars," when in fact spending now on facilities will save money later for educational expenses.

He lauded the proposal, put together mainly by district Business Manager Mike Chatterton, as a plan that gets the district the most for its money.

"If Mike believes the time to build is now, he's perceptive," Drake said. "It's an opportune time to build now."

Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay was also supportive.

"As a city councilman, I'm very pro on this," he said. "To leverage the money now makes a lot of sense."

A few people testified in opposition to the proposal, though previously vocal critic Elizabeth Schwerdtle was not present at the hearing.

Also not present were Trustees Daniel Parke and Mari Beth Matthews. The school board nonetheless had a quorum with board Chair Julie Dahlgren attending along with new board members Paul Bates and Steve Guthrie.

Hailey resident Leslie Dilley testified that she is against the proposal mainly because development of geothermal resources was not a priority when the district developed its strategic plan.

"We are now looking at spending over $20 million on geothermal," Dilley said. "A lot of people said no new facilities—pay attention to what is going on in the classroom."

Annie Weber testified that she thinks the district is moving too quickly.

"I feel we just passed the levy and now we're rushing to get the money," she said. "I think it needs a little more thought."

The next step in the judicial confirmation process is a yes or no vote by the board of trustees. If the trustees approve the proposal, a petition will be filed in 5th District Court seeking legal approval to borrow on the levy funds.

Terry Smith:

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