Leftover bond money will help repair Battle Ground schools

Board also votes to use $450K of $5.5M to pay down debt, lower taxes slightly

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

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The Battle Ground school board voted Monday to use most of the money left over from a 2005 bond measure for some major repairs needed in its schools. The board voted 4-1 to use the money to fix a long list of health and safety hazards.

Monty Anderson voted against the proposal, honoring a promise made by a former board member in 2005.

The school district has $5.5 million left over after completing nearly all projects approved by voters in a 2005 bond measure. It had two options under state law — effectively give the money back to taxpayers or use it for other capital projects, in this case major repairs.

The decision made Monday marks a minor compromise. The board will use about $450,000 left over from the bond to pay down some of the debt accrued under the bond measure. This will lower residents' property taxes ever so slightly.

Had the district used the whole $5.5 million to pay its debt, property taxes in the district would have decreased by 98 cents per $1,000 of home value, or $197 for a $200,000 home, MaryBeth Lynn, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said during a hearing last month.

No information was given during Monday's meeting on how great a reduction the much lower paydown amount would trigger.

The lion's share of the money — just more than $5 million — will now be used to fix leaking roofs, wheezing heaters and moldy classroom ceilings. A couple of rooms at Yacolt Primary School, for example, were found to contain toxic levels of fungal spores — mildew — from water leaking into ceiling materials, according to an April report by Wise Steps, an industrial hygiene firm.

The Yacolt school is at the top of a list of repairs in Battle Ground schools. The list is available on the district's website and totals nearly $12 million in estimated costs.

The board decided to use $456,000 toward debt repayments, because that amount was marked in the original bond measure to get a parcel of land near Amboy Middle School ready for a construction permit, Lynn said. The district intended at that time to build a north county high school to meet expected population growth, but has since shelved that plan.

As the money was earmarked for a project that never materialized, it ought to be given back, all board members agreed.

But a lively discussion over what to do with the rest of the leftover bond money lasted for more than one hour on Monday.

At the heart of the discussion was a statement made by former board member Frederick Striker during a 2004 board meeting. According to the minutes from that meeting, Striker promised taxpayers that any unused portion of the bond would be returned to them.

An informational brochure mailed out in Battle Ground before the election also included a reference to money being returned if the construction projects came in at a lower cost, current board president John Idsinga said on Monday.

But the bond resolution approved unanimously in 2005 contained standard state language, that future school boards could decide whether to use leftover money for debt repayment or other building projects.

Some residents remembered Striker's comments, though, which worried board member Anderson. He feared that voters might turn down next year's levy if they feel they can't trust what the district tells them during an election.

"How do we get the trust back?" Anderson asked.

He suggested paying down the debt now to lower taxes and running a $20 million bond measure during this November's election for the repair projects.

But the remaining board members voiced their opposition to that plan, saying it would be near-impossible to pass a bond in November, closely followed by an operations levy in February.

The vast majority of residents who commented during the hearings, in phone messages or emails were in favor of using the money for the needed repairs, several board members said before voting to do just that.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_schools.