Friday, February 12, 2010

School board approves borrowing on the levy

Judicial confirmation next step for approval of advance spending


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Paul Bates

The Blaine County School District board of trustees voted 3-1 Tuesday in favor of seeking court approval to borrow money on anticipated revenues from a 10-year, $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by voters last October.

Trustee Paul Bates cast the lone dissenting vote. Voting affirmative were Trustees Daniel Parke, Steve Guthrie and Mari Beth Matthews. In her role as board chair, Trustee Julie Dahlgren did not vote.

The next step in the process is for the district to file a "judicial confirmation" petition in Blaine County 5th District Court. If the petition is approved by a judge, the district would then be authorized to borrow money for geothermal development and heating system retrofits at most of the district's schools before actual levy revenue is received.

District Business Manager Mike Chatterton said Wednesday that the district anticipates spending $28 million on geothermal resource development and heating system replacements, with $24 million coming from levy funds and $4 million from a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

"If we wait five years to do the work when we've accumulated the money, then it's going to cost us $4.7 million more than if we do it now," Chatterton said.

Bates said Wednesday that he voted against the proposal because "I feel that the board needs to prioritize what we're going to spend and when."

"I'm concerned, and I hope I'm proven wrong, that we're not being as fiscally responsible as we can be just because we haven't listened to any other options," Bates said.

In addition to geothermal and heating system projects, the levy will raise revenue for safety and security upgrades, new technology, building repairs and new construction.

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Several members of the public talked about the levy spending proposal during the public comment period of Tuesday's school board meeting.

Hailey resident Leslie Dilley suggested that the district wait a few more months before proceeding so the public could learn more about the proposal.

Former school district Trustee Alexandra Sundali, who was defeated by Bates in last year's school board election, said she supports the proposal and referenced a public hearing on the issue held in January.

"I was present at the public hearing and the comments were overwhelmingly in favor of moving forward quickly with the construction," Sundali said. "The Blaine County School District has an excellent history of managing the taxpayers' money well."

The school board also approved a contract for up to $290,000 with Seattle-based McKinstry Engineering for geothermal and heating systems design. Chatterton said McKinstry was selected because "in this type of engineering service there is nothing local."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com

Watch it on the Internet

Tuesday's Blaine County school board meeting was broadcast live via the Internet and remains available for viewing at the district Web site, www.blaineschools.org. Trustee Paul Bates, who masterminded the Web cast idea, said he checked with the service provider about 45 minutes after the school board meeting ended and found that the meeting video already had 91 hits.

It was the second school board meeting that has been broadcast live and remains available for archival viewing. The first was a public hearing on the judicial confirmation process held Jan. 13. Bates said Wednesday that the public hearing video then had more than 900 hits.




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