Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 1:09 pm | Fog/Mist 67º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Lompoc Measure L2016 School Bond — Is It a Good Deal?

The Lompoc Unified School District has placed a $65 million bond measure on the November ballot to generate enough funds to overhaul facilities in the school district.

The recently completed $30 million Measure N bond addressed many issues.

However, during the construction period, many other significant issues were found that could not be repaired within the constraints of the bond.
 
District buildings are 50 years old, many haven’t had any makeovers in several decades and it’s beginning to show.

Rotted window frames, leaky roofs, faded paint, cracked stucco and outdated playground equipment are likely the result of an inadequate maintenance budget.

In all, the repairs could measure in the millions of dollars and take several years to complete.
 
All of the money in Measure L2016 will be used for repairs. State law prohibits the use of bond funding for staff costs unless the staff provides direct labor for the bond projects.

This would include direct labor costs by school district painters, electricians, carpenters, accounting and project management staff.
 
The projects that would be addressed include long-neglected playing fields, playground equipment, adding air conditioning, painting buildings, new parking lots for staff at most schools and students at the high schools, and a host of other repairs.
 
But there is a big difference between Measure L2016 and Measure N.

While Measure N was strictly limited to classroom improvements, Measure L2016 has no such limitations.

The project description list is so broad that the money could be used for nearly anything, including remodeling of district offices, rebuilding support shops and many other non-classroom projects.
 
I am not trying to imply that these areas don’t need work, but it seems to me the priority should be on student areas.

But since there is no priority list included in the language of this measure, the district could choose to spruce up headquarters first and wait several years to address student areas.  
 
And where was the annual maintenance budget to keep up district properties for the last 50 years?

Why do we need huge bonds like this to do what routine maintenance should have accomplished? Shouldn't this be completed by district management on a yearly basis with budgeted maintenance dollars?  
 
Instead, it’s likely that reserve dollars for maintenance funds were quietly used for salary and benefit increases.
 
It will take a two-thirds vote to approve this measure and that’s a tough threshold to meet. That means someone would have to convince wary voters to approve a complicated financing scheme that leaves a lot of questions.
 
Project proponents claim that your tax bill won’t increase because of this measure. That’s technically true because this isn’t considered a “tax.”

But according to the Tax Rate Statement posted on the Santa Barbara County Elections website, if all the bonds are sold, the district would have to repay $162.1 million for a bond sale of only $65 million. That’s about $97 million in interest, a sweet deal for someone.
 
Where would that money come from if not from property owners? It may not be a “tax,” but it adds to the total tax bill you get each year from the county assessor.
 
In the Tax Rate Statement document, not available in the sample ballot, the district admits that in the out years the new assessment could increase by $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per parcel by 2022; that’s an average of $130 a year for most homeowners just six years after this election.

Meanwhile, we are still paying off the Measure N Bond, which for my house amounts to $170 a year.
 
So saying that your total property tax bill won’t increase is difficult to reconcile when you read the information that the school district submitted to the county Elections Office.
 
Opponents point out that Measure N fixed all the electrical issues, storm-water drainage, bathrooms, sanitary and safety systems that Measure L2016 lists as needing improvement.

It did, and the management of Measure N squeezed every dollar out of the bonds by investing the money and using the interest to complete additional classroom projects.
 
An oversight committee would be appointed to monitor performance to assure all bond conditions are met and watch for any costs that are not allowed; an annual audit will be provided to the Board of Education.

I served on the Measure N oversight committee, and from my experience the district runs a tight ship; my observations were verified by an independent state audit which found no deficiencies.
 
Is Measure L2016 a good deal? You be the judge.

But considering the interest that will accrue is 150 percent of the loan amount, we really don’t know who gets all that interest money and there is no priority placed on student areas.

It just doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.

[Click here for ballot arguments on local bond measures]

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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