Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Feasible and Responsible

Last week the House released HSB 647, a bill that will extend the sunset of the SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) to January 1, 2050. In layman's terms, SAVE is the one cent sales tax that is dedicated to school infrastructure. The current law is set to expire in 2029, which may make one wonder what the rush is, but believe me; there is urgency to extend the expiration of this valuable resource. That's because many school districts bond against future sales tax revenue. School districts are now faced with a much smaller bonding capacity due to the impending 2029 sunset of the SAVE fund. One of the biggest benefits of using revenue bonds for capital improvement projects is that they don't impact property taxes. Without the ability to complete these projects with sales tax revenue, schools will turn to general obligation bonds which are bonds paid back with property tax proceeds. 

Because of limited bonding capacities, we are already beginning to see a greater reliance on general obligation bonds, as was demonstrated by the special election that was held on February 6th, 2018. Multiple school districts all around Iowa held special elections that night to pass bond issues for school infrastructure projects. Requiring a 60% super majority for passage, all of these bond issues will be funded through property tax. Because of the high threshold for getting voter approval, it is not uncommon for the issue to be brought before voters multiple times before ultimately receiving approval to move forward. Many of the issues on the ballot during this last election had previously been brought before voters.

In Hudson we have been working hard over the last several years to upgrade and renovate our facilities. The most recent project included the early childhood wing of our elementary school and the installation of the accessible ramp on the South end of our competition gym. In December, the board approved the second phase of this project, which will include the 4th and 5th grade wing of our elementary. All of these projects are being funded using our sales tax revenue, which generates approximately $600,000 annually. So as to not stretch ourselves too thin, we are budgeting roughly $500,000 annually to complete these infrastructure projects. This strategy does not come without challenges. First, it limits the size and scope of what we are able to do. Second, it creates a situation where other important projects are delayed; and third, it makes long range strategic planning formidable because there are numerous high need projects to address, often at the same time.

So to meet our challenge, at that same December meeting the board voted to move forward with a feasibility study to evaluate our facilities, determine and prioritize our long term goals, and help us develop a strategy in which to meet these needs. The timing for this work couldn't be better because as you know our school district is preparing for enrollment growth. It is important then, that we evaluate our facilities with this bright future in mind. In the coming weeks we will be engaging multiple groups of stakeholders in this process through meetings, strategy sessions, and public hearings. I'm not certain where this process will lead us. Whatever we determine is a 'feasible plan' will undoubtedly be executed in a responsible manner.

In the interim, here's how you can help. We have engaged with Invision Architecture to lead our feasibility study. With a local connection, we have had a longstanding positive relationship with this firm and have worked together on multiple projects. The most recent being the work done this past summer. In preparation for our study we would like to gather some baseline information to help identify our needs and priorities. If you would be so kind as to complete this brief survey that will only be open until February 20th we would b grateful. You can access the survey here

For certain, this makes the extension of the SAVE incredibly important for the Hudson Community School District. 

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