Bond issue would not hike property tax rates

Sunday, February 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:09 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Columbia Public School District will ask voters to approve a $22.5 million bond issue in the April 6 election. Bonds affect all property owners but may not be completely understood, so the Columbia Missourian has attempted to clarify the issue.

General obligation bonds are bonds the school district sells to a pool of investors to create revenue. The school district uses these proceeds as immediate funding for projects such as construction, maintenance and equipment.

The property tax rate would not increase, but taxpayers must pay the debt back over time at an interest rate. According to the school district, the debt-payment period would be extended by three years if voters approve this bond.

The school district cites the age of buildings and growth of the district as reasons the money is needed. However, the money wouldn’t fulfill all the wishes of the district. The district estimates more than $130 million is needed to complete all desired improvements; some of these items include building another elementary school, increasing air-conditioning and eliminating some of the trailers being used as classrooms.

Voters passed a $23.8 million bond issue in April 2002. That money was spent on projects such as making older schools accessible to the disabled and adding computers and other maintenance to buildings in the district. Money for the upcoming bond issue has been slated for many school renovations.

Last April, voters approved a 19-cent operating tax levy presented by the school district. The district has a total tax levy of $4.94; $4.14 is used for operating costs, such as salaries, supplies and utilities. The remaining 80 cents is used for payment of debts. Last year’s tax-levy increase was used solely for operating costs. This bond issue would keep the total levy the same and would maintain the debt-payment level at the current rate.

Board of Education candidates have mixed reactions to the proposed bond.

Last week at a forum, Karla DeSpain said she was in favor of the bond so the district could continue to maintain its facilities.

Chuck Headley agreed. “My stance on the bond issue is that it should be supported by the community,” he said. “Much of it is for maintenance, which has to be done to keep the buildings usable and effective.”

Henry Lane and Arch Brooks disagree with the bond proposal.

“Columbia Public Schools have not successfully explained current expenditures,” Brooks said.

Lane said people have the impression their property taxes wouldn’t go up. “But debt like this doesn’t come free of charge,” he said. “There are principal and interest payments that have to be made on it, and the money to cover them will come by having property owners pay more property taxes.”

Martina Pounds does not oppose the bond issue, but she does question some of its components, such as the $1.2 million for real estate.

In short, voting “yes” on the bond issue would give the Columbia Public Schools $22.5 million over the next two years to complete construction and renovation in the district. Although there would be no tax increase, paying off debts would be extended for a longer time period, keeping taxes at the current level instead of decreasing in the future.

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