by Jack Minor –
While voters are being asked to approve a tax increase to build a replacement school for John Evans, a closer look at the numbers being given to voters for the cost of the project apparently do not add up, with actual costs to the taxpayer being greater than what is being claimed in campaign flyers.
The Greeley/ Evans District 6 Board of Education has placed an issue on the ballot asking voters to approve an increase in property taxes to replace John Evans Middle School. The purpose of the tax increase is to meet state requirements to qualify for a $22 million Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant. The measure would permit the district to issue approximately $8 million in bonds to qualify for the BEST loan.
The ballot measure, 3A, is being touted by supporters of the property tax increase as a bargain. The Greeley Tribune which has endorsed the measure says, “If you could spend $8 and get another $21 for free, wouldn’t you do it?”
Members of the school board have used similar language attempting to convince voters to pass the measure. At a recent PTO meeting at Scott Elementary, board member Judy Kron said, “If you were to go to Target and see that something was for sale at 72 percent off, you would buy it in a heartbeat. With the bulk of the money coming from the state, we are basically doing the same thing. That is quite a bargain.”
However, the numbers being touted do not tell the whole story because they do not include the cost of repaying the loan. While information on the exact interest rate is not available, estimates on the total amount to pay for the loan is around $14 million. Once this amount is factored in, the cost changes to spending $14 while the state provides $21 in funds. While some may argue this is still a bargain, it is a far cry from what is being portrayed in flyers supporting the measure.
Requests by the district to provide specific information on the bonds including a repayment schedule, whether there is a ceiling on the amount of interest to be repaid on the loan and the interest rate were not returned at the time of the publishing of this article.
The district has also argued the amount of the increase is relatively small, claiming the estimated tax impact for each $100,000 if home value will be $7.94 per year and the estimated tax impact for each $100,000 of commercial real estate would be $28.95 per year.
The district was also asked and has not responded as to whether they are willing to guarantee the amount they quoted in their estimates for property owners will not increase for any reason. However, the language of the initiative says, “shall ad valorem property taxes be levied without limit as to the mill rate to generate an amount sufficient in each year to pay the principal of….and interest on such debt.”
The district says this means they would have the authority to raise the mil levy rate to cover the payment on the bond debt, regardless of what the amount would end up being.
The district has estimated the cost of building the John Evans replacement out west to be $25-30 million, while building on the existing site would cost $25-29 million, which is almost the same amount.
However, an insider with the district says infrastructure fees for building at the new site which would not be needed if they stayed at the existing site will come to $4-6 million.
Based on these numbers, all things being equal the cost of remaining at the old location should be around $20-25 million which would mean the property tax increase would be significantly less if they built on the current site.
Another issue is the amount of traffic at the new site. Realtor Randy Moser says there are legitimate traffic concerns that have not been addressed by the district.
“They have not paid attention to the amount of traffic at the intersection where they want to build the school. You have a lot of oil and gas traffic and it is extremely busy between 6-9 a.m. which is right when school is starting,” Moser said. “They are saying the school will cost $30 million to build, but how many more millions of dollars will it cost in road development in all four directions. Where will that money come from?”
Another question regards existing students who may need to be bused to the new site. The district says they currently bus students from the west side so it would simply be a question of changing the routes. They claim while it may require the addition of two or three routes there should not be any additional cost saying, “that can be handled within the existing Transportation Department fleet scheduling.”
Moser says it will not be as simple as that.
”Eighty percent of the students in John Evans currently live east of 23rd Avenue and now they won’t be able to ride their bike to school anymore. The number of students being bused will undoubtedly go up.”
There are also questions arising from the location itself. The district owns the 50 acre parcel the school will be situated on and they say the location was chosen because it is an “area of high growth.”
However, there are currently fields located on the south side of the intersection which calls into question just high growth the area can be when it is being used for agriculture.
Moser disputes the “high growth” assertion.
“Greeley is lagging Windsor, Loveland and Ft. Collins in new permits,” Moser said. “Greeley has always been a slow grower, we kind of lag everybody else. We have the oil and gas business but a lot of those people don’t buy houses, they just come in and rent.”
Based on these issues it would actually be cheaper to build on the existing site. This would also mean the district would not need to ask for as large a property tax increase.
The new location is also curious when the board has went out of its way to insist that new charter schools be built on the east side of town. During the approval process for Union Colony Elementary school several board members made it clear that not building the school out east would be a deal breaker regardless of what it would cost for the school.
When asked about the apparent double standard the district claims it is to give parents out west the ability to attend a neighborhood middle school rather than a charter school.
Ultimately the issue will come down to one of whether voters believe the district has been honest with them and can be trusted to spend the funds wisely.
Kron acknowledged that the board has done things in the past to cause voters to be distrustful.
“Frankly, there a lot of people in the district, who just don’t trust us,” Kron said.
However, she said she is hopeful the measure will pass because of younger voters. Kron told parents at Scott Elementary that she felt it would be easier to pass the measure this time around since it is an election year and there could be record numbers of younger voters participating this year.