Tax hike may come with or without PBL voters' OK

PAXTON — Some voters in the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district might be tempted to check the “no” box when they are asked on the Nov. 8 election ballot whether they would be willing to pay higher property taxes over the next 25 years to fund the replacement of PBL’s oldest school, PBL Eastlawn School.

But what they might not realize is that a property tax increase could be imminent — with or without their approval

The school district’s superintendent, Cliff McClure, planned to release information to the community this week showing that the district would be expected to incur about $32.19 million in longterm facility costs over the next 25 years in the event the referendum fails.

That number is just below the $33.34 million in costs that would be incurred if the ballot question passes.

McClure said the district’s construction manager and architects came up with the estimated figure for longterm facility costs so that voters have an “apples-to-apples” comparison to consider.

According to McClure, if the referendum is successful, PBL would issue $31.45 million in building bonds, which would be used to tear down PBL Eastlawn School and build an addition to Clara Peterson Elementary School to house Eastlawn’s third- through fifth-graders.

The project also would involve completing a “medium” renovation to Clara Peterson and upgrading the school’s electrical, mechanical and heating/ventilation/air-conditioning systems.  About $4 million in mandated health/life safety (HLS) work at both Clara Peterson and PBL High School would also be included.

Meanwhile, the annual property tax bill for a $100,000 home would increase by $187.39, assuming there are no exemptions, according to district officials.
If the referendum fails, on the other hand, no building bonds would be issued, and no school addition would be built. Eastlawn would remain standing and used, as well.

But the district would also be stuck with much more longterm maintenance costs, plus mandated health/life safety (HLS) work, at both Eastlawn and Clara Peterson — work that would otherwise be reduced in scope or even eliminated if the addition were to be built and Clara Peterson were to be renovated.

If Eastlawn and Clara Pete are left unchanged, for example, they would each need electrical system upgrades and a new boiler, with Eastlawn also requiring plumbing upgrades and its roof replaced, McClure said.

“These are not regular maintenance costs — these are what we would call a major repair,” McClure said.

According to McClure, a failed referendum means PBL would see $12 million in HLS repairs at the district’s four schools over the next 10 years. And from 2028 to 2042, there would be $20.18 million more in HLS expenses — for just Clara Peterson and Eastlawn — bringing the total of HLS repairs required over the next 25 years to $32.19 million.

Taxpayers would be footing the bill for all of the HLS work, too — but without the district being required to put a question regarding a tax increase on any election ballot. That’s because the school board has the authority, via state law, to issue HLS bonds without voter approval.

It is estimated that the HLS work, alone, would cost an additional $104.06 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home with no exemptions.

If the referendum passes, however, and Clara Peterson is renovated and built onto, the HLS work would be reduced over the next 25 years by $18 million — from $20.18 million to only $2 million.

And the district would have a new school, too, meaning some additional “efficiencies” in operational costs could be realized, as well, McClure said.

McClure admits that “both options are a considerable amount of money,” but with so much at stake — the district’s future — voters need to consider the impact of each.

The bottom line, McClure said, is that work — and expensive work — will need to be completed in the next 25 years, regardless of whether PBL keeps its existing schools or builds new ones.

McClure said the potential longterm maintenance costs, versus the savings that would be realized through having a new school, prompted the school board to start considering pursuing the November ballot question.

“I think that was the initial reason the board started looking down the road and saying, ‘We have to start looking at facility planning and what is a good option,’” McClure said.

McClure is not promoting support for the referendum — he’s legally not allowed to — but he is providing relevant information, which he hopes voters will consider.

Whichever way the public votes, McClure knows the school board will have important choices to make in upcoming months on how to address the future of the district’s facilities.

“If the referendum would fail, we would still have to make some decisions,” McClure said. “The board and I would be making decisions, moving forward, about how we’d get this health/life safety work completed.”

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BettyButterfield wrote on October 19, 2016 at 1:10 pm
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Superintendent McClure and others in charge of our school district have wanted for years to demolish Eastlawn and Clara Peterson to build everything out by Interstate 57. Their plan is their motivation, and that can be seen in the calculations. Fact it, they paid (with our tax dollars) to have their constuction managers and architects present those skewed numbers in order to convince us that it will be just as expensive to maintain what we have. We don't buy it.

The fact that the school district wanted to demolish Clara Peterson as well should be a loud warning to anyone who thinks buildling new is a good idea. Another loud warning should be the maintenance issues that have already plagued the "new" junior high school building. McClure got what he wanted with the new junior high. They won't stop until their vision is complete.

Enrollment is dwindling fast - from 1523 in 2009-10 to 1359 in 2016-17 (down 164 students). Did the school district cut costs? Did they reduce the number of high paid administrators/non-teaching staff? NEW sounds very good when you think it is for the benefit if education. People are leaving the district, but not because of the buildings.

VOTE NO

They'll keep trying, but at least our voices of reason will be heard.

SAVE EASTLAWN

PS: If there was a natural disaster hitting town and you had to go to one of our school buildings to save yourselves and your family members, where would you go? Would you go to the "new" junior high where they have to put down buckets when there are heavy rains? Nope.. you'd go to the most solid school building in town. Eastlawn.  They say to stand in a doorway. Go check out the doorways at Eastlawn and compare them to the ones at the junior high.

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