Empire editorial: Pay for new school now rather than later

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2007

The question isn't so much whether Thunder Mountain High School will get an auditorium and furnishings, but who will pay for them.

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Juneau residents should vote Tuesday on three propositions that, if approved, will provide about $17 million in bonds to complete the new Mendenhall Valley high school. The funds cover the costs of finishing a 500-seat auditorium; creating an artificial turf field and running track; and furnishing the school with items such as desks, computers, library books, laboratory equipment and musical instruments.

Outfitting the school with desks and equipment is a must, and the city will complete the auditorium one way or another.

If voters approve the propositions, the state will reimburse the city 70 percent for the costs of the auditorium and school furnishings.

If voters nix these proposals and complete the auditorium and field and track after November 2008, the city could end up picking up the entire tab.

Passage of Proposition 1, dealing with the auditorium, will lead to a $4 hike in the annual property tax bill for someone who owns a $400,000 home. Approval of Proposition 2, addressing the track and field, will spur an annual tax increase of $18.80 for the owner of the same home.

Most homeowners aren't going to feel that extra $20 to $30 a year in taxes. And paying for these projects with property taxes, as opposed to the city sales tax, means the burden will fall on those who can more easily afford it.

Proposition 3, calling for $920,000, will be financed through the existing sales tax, which will not be raised.

Yes, the Juneau School District has moved the high school project forward in pieces that have some people feeling manipulated. Not all of the additional costs are due to skyrocketing construction costs. Voters did not originally approve the fancier version of the track and field, and some resent the district coming back for it after pushing the basic project through.

The bottom line is an auditorium and track and field will provide this town's kids more venues for healthy activities. These facilities will be open to the public for performances and other events.

We should approve all three proposals now - before costs jump even higher, and we end up footing the entire bill.

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