APOLOGIES WHERE THEY ARE DUE AND CORRECTIONS:
The land the where the Early Learning Center/Central Office is being built, is IN FACT, owned by Westfield-Washignton Schools at Monon Trail Elementary School, and taxpayers will NOT be paying for it. All comments regarding the per price acreage were wrong, and it is regrettable that it was incorrectly reported. The "Additional Appropriations" for $4 Million dollars were in anticipation of land being purchased in Grand Park. That plan has been abandoned. The "All-in" budget for the project is $19 million dollars. (A new elementary school often costs upward of $30 million dollars. From this perspective, the project might be deemed reasonable.) The remainder of this article is as factual as can be ascertained from past Board meetings. The goal is to help educate residents and taxpayers about issues in Westfield, not create confusion. Sending due respect to all for the misinformation.
The Westfield-Washington School Board (click for the agenda) is hosting its third public hearing on the District’s Early Learning Center/Central Office project tomorrow night at 7 PM at Washington Woods Elementary School. To date, not one person has taken the opportunity to speak up at the previous hearings. As if the community hasn’t been upset enough already with the reassignment of Dr. Stacy McGuire, there’s this issue which has been ongoing.
The new building, which is being touted as one which will free-up 21 classrooms in our elementary schools, comes at a cost of around $19 million dollars. Promoted as a more fiscally responsible decision, this is predicated on the notion that it’s cheaper to build than a brand new elementary school. Despite owning land adjacent to Monon Trail Elementary, the School Board will use a General Obligation (GO) Bond to borrow $4 million dollars to spread out the repayment for the lease to the WWS Building Corporation. The lease rental will then be paid back from property taxes and will “sufficiently pay for principal for interest.” If you find this statement bewildering, let me put it this way…the School Board is going to lease back land that it already owns to build something new and shiny.
If you’re curious as to why things are done this way, here’s what can be offered on the subject.
“Long-term debt is a commonly used means of financing large capital assets. Issuing debt increases the total cost of the asset through the payment of interest, but it also allows for the acquisition or building of capital assets sooner by borrowing up front for things the District couldn’t otherwise fund through existing cash resources” (MRSC, n.d.).
The ten-acre project parcel will cost the district $2.9 million dollars. A local developer tells me, he paid for land nearby at just $100k per acre and $45k per acre, yet the school district is evidently happy to pay as much as $290k per acre, plus interest on the bond. Does that sound like good business sense to you?
Moreover, WWS Schools Superintendent, Sherry Grate, and CFO, Brian Tomamichael, have clearly stated the project won’t go against the district’s debt limit. (As if that’s a good thing for the taxpayers.) There’s a reason the SBOA and DLGF have limits; it’s to protect the taxpayer’s indebtedness! As the District will see significant debt fall off this year, taxpayers would have seen a decrease in their school tax rate of almost .09 cents per hundred (.0895 to be exact).
Instead, the rate will have a zero net-effect (on the current tax rate) and you can enjoy the same tax rate you’re currently paying. Are thanks really in order?
At the February 4, 2020 School Board Meeting (when one of the public hearings occurred and no one spoke) Tomamichael states that more debt is due to fall off next year and the tax rate would “probably drop another .10 cents.” If you’ve seen the “Growing the Rocks Way" Plan, prepare yourselves to never see that tax savings either. In fact, prepare to see another much-needed project year-after-year instead of the tax savings for which you might be longing.
Dr. Grate appears happy to get Central Office to yet another building. Their current leased space is due to be demolished for a PUD (Planned Unit Development) in the near future. Some believe the $120,000 annual lease is too expensive as referendum dollars are being used to make the rent. If you think that’s a lot, think about how many times you could pay that rent with $19 Million dollars.
You’re encouraged to do as much homework as possible and show up to voice your concerns tomorrow night. This is likely the last opportunity the community will have to do so. Attributed to Alexander Hamilton, as the saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County is an multi-partisan organization of Hamilton County, Indiana residents who are volunteers focused on fiscal policy and fiscal issues. It is free of outside control by any individual, organization or group. It exists to distribute opinions on issues affecting Hamilton County residents. Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the FCoHC or its board members.