School district puts $125M bond on ballot in face of faster-than-expected growth

Washington County School District office, St. George, Utah, Sept. 11, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Population growth in the St. George metropolitan area has outpaced the Washington County School District’s projections, prompting officials to propose a $125 million bond to pay for more schools and much-needed maintenance and upkeep projects.

A public hearing was held at the Washington County School District office in St. George Tuesday afternoon to receive comments from the community about the proposed $125 million general obligation bonds.

Read more: School board to host public hearing on $125 million general obligation bonds

Following public comments, the Washington County School District Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to place the proposal on the ballot in the November general election.

Members of the Washington County School District Board of Education listen to public comment, Washington County School District office, St. George, Utah, Sept. 11, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

At the meeting, officials emphasized that the bond doesn’t raise taxes but instead freezes the current property tax rate in place.

“The bond would not raise taxes above their current levels,” board business administrator Brent Bills said. “As bonding is paid off, the levels will decrease over time, and this would actually just keep the levels at the same level and allow us at the same time to meet the future growth and needs of our district.”

If approved, the board plans to use the money to build new schools, remodel existing buildings and upgrade school safety mechanisms.

The region’s unprecedented growth outpaced the district’s previous projections that monies accrued from a $185 million bond issued in 2013 would last until 2020.

“This growth in the community is forcing us to build schools faster than we thought we were going to build them,” Bills said.

During the meeting’s public hearing, Santa Clara resident Myron Lee, a father of two children enrolled in the district, said he was frustrated at being presented with another expensive bond so soon after the one issued in 2013.

“Every year, the education lobby at the state Legislature goes forward and prays to the Legislature like Mormons pray for the rain,” Lee said. “They say, ‘Thanks for what you gave us, but we need more.’ I’m getting tired of that.”

Santa Clara resident Myron Lee offers comment at a public hearing before the Washington County School District Board of Education, Washington County School District office, St. George, Utah, Sept. 11, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

He said he’s already facing an additional $300 per year in property tax increases and questioned whether the district needs $125 million.

“Please consider that you’re approaching taxpayer fatigue as you continue to ask for more and more money for education,” Lee said to the board members.

Lee’s sentiments were echoed by Richard Faulkner, the only other citizen who gave comment.

“I’m not anti-education by any means, but what would you do if this does not pass,” Faulkner asked. “What are the alternatives if you don’t get it? I’m kind of guessing that you’re assuming that you are going to get this money, but what happens if you don’t?”

Board member Terry Hutchinson said the alternative to the provisions provided by the bond would include year-round schooling and split sessions.

“That’s really the option that we’d be looking at if we don’t get this bond, and quite a bit of it goes for maintenance and upgrading school safety,” Hutchinson said. “It’s one-time money. It’s not money that can come through the normal tax revenue stream.”

Citing aging buildings and decrepit sports fields, Bills said it would be a killer to the community if the bond isn’t passed.

He said there is need for both new schools and improvements to existing schools throughout the entire school district, including expansions to more rural schools like Enterprise Elementary and Enterprise High schools. The county needs two additional elementary schools, and the district is hoping to build a career and technical high school.

There is also a need to add additional safety mechanisms to some of the district’s older elementary schools, Bills said, such as access points to buildings and playgrounds.

Multiple board members said the school district has gone to great lengths in calculating the $125 million in expenses necessary to address the county’s rapid growth.

“It’s important to know that as a board and administrative staff, I can’t even quantify the number of hours that have been spent fine-tuning that number for the bond, going through every school in the district – all the needs in the district – to come up with that number,” school board President David Stirland said.

Superintendent Larry Bergeson said that the county is getting an endorsement from the Utah Taxpayers Association, which he says has recognized the Washington County School District for being frugal spenders of taxpayer dollars by issuing timely bonds.

“There’s a lot of thought – a lot of consideration – that goes into account when you start talking about spending taxpayer dollars,” board Vice President Kelly Blake said. “We’ve also been judicious in how we handle taxpayer money.”

The community will have one additional opportunity to ask questions, provide input or voice concerns at another public hearing during a school board meeting in October, at which point the board will offer a final vote on the resolution to conduct the special bond election Nov. 6.

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  • Not_So_Much September 12, 2018 at 7:31 am

    In Nov, just say no.

  • Brian September 12, 2018 at 10:45 am

    I’m blown away by the doomsday claims from the board members. It’s shameful. They’re basically saying “Give us this money or we’ll make you pay by taking away your kids sports programs and your summer vacation”. Seriously?

  • tazzman September 12, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Brent Bills citing “decrepit sports fields”…please. Do you drive by the vast sports complex at DHS and the empty fields at Pine View Middle, and the huge complex at Desert Hills HS?

    I’ve been to all of those over the last several months as well as Fossil Ridge. They don’t need any money. They need people to use them is what they need.

    Sounds like the WCSD is more concerned with vanity projects than actual used facilities.

  • Dennis September 12, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Stop having so many kids & expect the rest of us to pay for them!

  • mshaw September 12, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    That Larry that runs the school board tries to sound nice on the radio as he tries to hand out his collection plate I would like to see what his wage is and what he gets if this so called bond goes through. I will say I’m voting no I bet he gets a fat raise every time he gets more money. And I bet Karen bess gets her share too!

  • jpff September 12, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Ever heard of “An ounce of prevention”? We can invest in the education of our kids now or pay for their incarcerations, drug treatments, and welfare later. Which will cost us the most?

  • utahdiablo September 13, 2018 at 11:42 am

    It’s called “Infastructure Impact Fee’s”….why are all these new home owners not being saddled with these fee’s to build the Schools, Public safety, Roads, Water use, etc….instead of the current home owners getting screwed once again with higher property taxes… our home’s school property taxes have raised $300 in the last 4 years alone….enough of this crap …Raise the price of the land you keep selling SITLA, to the developers, to pay for all these school projects….Vote NO on this in NOvember people, time to put them in their place….Get out in Vote or at least Mail in your ballot

    • tazzman September 13, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Well diablo, why would SITLA actually charge actual market and impact costs to developers when they can continue to give them such a great deal? Nice hidden corporate subsidy.

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