Empire editorial: Vote yes on Proposition 5

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007

A reminder that people used to regularly carry guns into one of Juneau's elementary schools shows just how much times have changed.

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Harborview Elementary School housed a shooting range in its basement. The range was shut down in the mid-1990s and guns are the last thing most people want coming into schools these days. The basement, however, has remained off-limits to school use due to high levels of lead.

Should Juneau voters pass Proposition 5, Harborview will be able to reclaim the use of its basement, as well as begin the process of restoring all of its programs back under one roof. Currently, some of Harborview's classes are held next door in the Marie Drake building.

The proposition seeks to raise $22.4 million in general obligation bonds to renovate Harborview and Glacier Valley Elementary School. These schools are in much need of repair.

Harborview hasn't been remodeled for a quarter of a century, and Glacier Valley hasn't been renovated since being completed in 1965. In that time, there have been a number of changes in fire, heating and ventilation, seismic and wind-shear codes. And the Americans with Disabilities Act now requires handicapped-access ramps and wider doorways at both schools.

The good news about funding these school renovations is that homeowners will not see a rise in their annual property tax bill if voters approve Proposition 1, an extension of the temporary 1 percent sales tax.

The sales tax would pay for the first five years of school bond reimbursements. After five years, homes worth $300,000 would contribute only $62 per year to the renovation debt, according to the city's finance director.

Another break in the cost of the renovations comes from the fact that the bonds are eligible for 70 percent state reimbursement. That means we will only be responsible for paying off $6.8 million of the debt.

The window for state reimbursement could be closing, if legislators don't choose to extend it. The law covering reimbursements will sunset next year, so if voters don't approve the bonds now, it could cost much more later.

That's because state law requires the schools to be upgraded. With a $60 million operating budget, there's no way the Juneau School District could afford $22.4 million in renovations. Instead, the district would have to go back to the old system of waiting for needs-based funding from the state. If this was the case, Juneau would have to compete with schools throughout Alaska for limited funds.

It's undeniable: Harborview and Glacier Valley need to be renovated. The question is how should the work be funded. Proposition 5 is the most efficient way to do this.

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