Tax impact of RFSD bonds to come in one shot | PostIndependent.com

Tax impact of RFSD bonds to come in one shot

Class transitions at Glenwood Springs Elementary School include children walking between buildings. The school is to be fully renovated under the school district's $122 million bond issue approved by voters in November.

Roaring Fork School District officials will issue all $122 million worth of bonds that were approved by district voters last month at one time in January, rather than spreading them out over time as a way to lessen the initial impact on taxpayers.

The overall school district tax increase to pay off the bonds will be the same regardless. But the RFSD school board, at a special meeting Tuesday night, weighed the option of issuing bonds in two increments of $30 million and $92 million, which would defer some of the tax increase to 2017 instead of coming all at once.

That would "soften the blow" for property owners, who will be hit with a double whammy on their 2016 tax bills due to an average 18 percent increase in assessed valuations combined with the school district's and other mill levy increases that were OK'd by voters in the Nov. 3 election.

But the risk is that interest rates could increase before the second bond issue, increasing the cost to finance the various school projects included in the bond package over the long haul, Shannon Pelland, assistant superintendent of finance for the district, said.

Voters approved bonds to pay for several school projects and initiatives, including $20 million of the $29 million needed for a makeover at Glenwood Springs Elementary School. The remaining $9 million for that project is coming from a state Building Excellent Schools Today grant.

Also included in the bond package is $34.5 million for a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school south of Glenwood Springs, and $15 million to provide affordable teacher and staff housing throughout the district, plus various transportation, safety and technology improvements.

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"It was our campaign message to issue the bonds in 2016," said board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger, who became the new board president at Tuesday's meeting, said.

"If we discount [the increase] next year, then people are going to wonder why their taxes are going up again in 2017," she said.

Board member Matt Hamilton agreed.

"We want to give voters the best deal, and that best deal is now," Hamilton said in favor of issuing all the bonds as soon as possible to avoid taking the chance of rising interest rates.

Meanwhile, the board also took several steps Tuesday to begin planning for the construction projects, including finalizing a contract with the consulting firm of NV5 to act as the district's owner's representative.

The owner's rep will work with the school board, district and school-level staff and a specially appointed citizens' bond oversight committee to guide the design process for each project, district Superintendent Diana Sirko explained.

"Especially as we get ready to redo Glenwood Elementary we want to make sure we have adequate input from staff, the community and from students," Sirko said. "I've been involved in projects in the past we I've seen the kids themselves involved at different levels. They are our most important user group."

The district will begin taking applications from citizens to serve both on the oversight committee and on a separate district housing committee that will be charged with developing that program.

"We want the community and staff to have some role in that, but at the end of the day it is a board decision," Sirko said.

One of the first steps in developing the housing program will be to conduct a staff survey to determine how many teachers and support staff may be looking for rental housing. The survey will also help determine the size of units desired, rent capabilities, whether they are willing to have roommates, as well as whether down payment assistance to buy a home would be preferred.

The school district is already in negotiations with developers of the Willits subdivision in Basalt to acquire 14 rental units that are under construction.

As part of the bond issue, the district said it would split the $15 million portion for teacher housing evenly between the Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs attendance areas.

Sirko said the goal is to have some housing available for next school year.

The housing committee will also be charged with researching housing programs in other school districts or public entities.

Unlike Aspen, where Sirko formerly was superintendent of schools, Garfield County does not have a true community housing program for public-sector employees.

"Most of our staff makes too much to qualify for the deed-restricted units that are available, but they can't get into the free market," Sirko said.

Also addressed by the school board Tuesday was a communications plan to keep the public informed about the bond projects as they move forward. That is to include regular press releases, emails to parents and staff, newsletter announcements and use of Facebook and other social media.