Voters may face $11.8 million school bond question

Assembly Finance Committee mum on school bonds for Auke Bay and Marie Drake

Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2009

Voters this October will likely be asked to issue $11.8 million in school bonds for a renovation at Gastineau Elementary in Douglas.

The project is the Juneau School District's top priority on a list of local schools that need to be updated. Auke Bay Elementary and the Marie Drake building are also on the list, and the district had requested the Assembly put all three school projects on the ballot at a total cost of $44 million.

But the Assembly Finance Committee indicated Wednesday they would support putting only one project on the ballot this year.

While the city is facing annual budget deficits between $4 million and $5 million starting in 2011 due to stagnant or falling revenues, Assembly members have repeatedly said they want to hold the line on property taxes during the economic downturn.

If Gastineau Elementary's question reaches the ballot and voters approve it, it would cost the owner of a $350,000 home an extra $42 per year for 10 years in property taxes.

School Board member Ed Flanagan said he understood the decision in light of the fiscal situation and thanked the Assembly for supporting education.

He also told them he thought the district could get support for two school projects.

"I would have liked to see them put Auke Bay on the ballot as well, but we'll come back next year and go after that one," Flanagan said after the meeting. "And we'll be back the next year and the year after."

The projects qualify for a 70 percent reimbursement from the state.

Gastineau Elementary was built in 1957 and, like Auke Bay Elementary and the Marie Drake building, has never been fully renovated. Mechanical systems in all three buildings have lasted more than twice their life expectancy, District Facilities Coordinator Deb Morse said.

In answering Assembly member Bob Doll's question about what the district would do if a roof started to leak, Morse said the district could realign some of the nearly $20 million in funds voters already approved for renovations at other schools.

The committee discussed a potential ballot question that would ask voters to consider about $2 million so the district could start planning renovations at the Auke Bay school. They did not make a decision about the idea Wednesday, but school bonds will be addressed again at a full meeting of the Assembly.

Morse introduced new Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich Wednesday. He started in the position on July 1, replacing Peggy Cowan.

After the meeting, Gelbrich said he recognized the Assembly had to consider the cost of property taxes in its decision on the school projects.

"It's their decision to make and we will make the best of that decision," Gelbrich said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or by e-mail at kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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