Farwell to decide on bond, sinking fund tonight

June 6, 2019

By Pat Maurer

A special meeting will be held by the Farwell Board of Education at 6 p.m. tonight (June 7th) to determine which proposal will be on the November ballot or on one next year.

Superintendent Steven Scoville gave an overview of the feedback from two Community Forum’s held recently “in an attempt to decide how to proceed on a potential bond issue for the Farwell Schools.” About 50 attended each forum.

In May, by only 34 votes, Farwell School District voters turned down their 24.5 million bond proposal to renew their present bond with an additional mill to renovate buildings, replace aging boilers and build six new Elementary classrooms.

The Farwell School District was asking voters to approve the renewal of 2.37 mills for the present bond, which expires this year, and add an additional one mill to fund the renovations and improvements. If voters had approved it, the new 25-year bond issue would have raised $23,900,000.
The vote was 753 in favor of the bond proposal and 787 voting against it.
Immediately after the bond failed the district held the two community forums to find out what the voters in the district would support.

Scoville said, “The feedback from the community has shown that the two biggest reasons for the bond failing were the number of years (25) and the amount of interest (estimated at $17,127,567) that the district would pay over the life of the bond. Another concern was the development of a long range plan for “fixing and maintaining the FAS facilities.”

The needs of the district include: comprehensive Elementary School upgrades including playground equipment and fencing, a parking/parking entrance, demolished the 1949 west (Teachout) wing and, and built six new classrooms; replaced 18 aging boilers with four new ones; mechanical and control upgrades to the buildings; roof replacement in the Elementary, Middle and High Schools; district wide safety and security upgrades; resurfacing the HS gym floor; and replacing MS flooring.

Other needs are an improved JPAC drop off and pick up; district wide PA system upgrades; replacing windows and doors; exterior LED lighting; district-wide clock upgrades and additions; bus garage improvements; Timberland improvements; sports complex improvements and repair and resurfacing of the track, a new ticket booth, fence, well pressure tank and a new electrical shed.

Scoville said, “During the Community Forums, stakeholders discussed, voted and commented on many options and aspects of this very complicated and important decision. Sixty percent of those in attendance would prefer to move the High and Middle School drop off areas to Michigan Street and only allow busses and properly marked vehicles into the JPAC (Jaime Center) lot during drop off and pick up times versus creating a new bus only area.”

“This change would save approximately $1.7 million dollars,” Scoville said.
He added, “75 percent of those in attendance voted to demolish and replace the Teachout Wing, versus two percent that would like to remodel it. 23 percent wanted to explore other options.” He said 57 percent supported replacing the Teachout Wing’s six rooms with six [new] classrooms, while 43 percent only want to replace [it] with only four rooms.”

Options for a proposal included: (1.) repeating the May 7th ballot issue; (2.) starting the whole process over; (3.) waiting until next May or even November; (4.) A 2.1 mill bond renewal for 20 years and a one mill sinking fund for 10 years with a plan to renew in ten years; or (5.) renewal of a 2.1 bonds and asking for a .9 mill increase for 20 years with establishment of a sinking fund in an undisclosed number of years.

Option one, a repeat of the failed May ballot proposal would raise the most money in the least time and all of the preparation work by Johnson Controls is done, but the length of the bond issue, 25 years and the $17 million price tag for the interest on the bond could “split the community,” Scoville said.
Option two, restarting the whole process again would give time for more community forums, but costs would continue to grow, roofs and boilers would continue to fail with repairs deleting the general fund and when the present bond expires this fall there would be no income until a new proposal passes making all new request a straight millage increase rather than a renewal.

Option three, waiting until next May or November would also allow more community forum meetings, but meanwhile the costs would continue to grow and money would have to come from the general fund for roof and boiler repairs. A proposal would also be a straight increase rather than a renewal of the present bond.

At Monday’s meeting, Jane Jaime, a long-time supporter of the schools, urged the board to wait and get more input from the community. “We are rushing it to do [this] in November. Let’s not have another failed bond issue.”

Letha Raymond said she appreciated the community forum meetings, but is concerned that they weren’t enough. “We need more. We would be further ahead to continue the process and plan for a 2020 ballot.”

Board member Shari Buccilli said, “I was at the second meeting listened to the the people who wanted to cut the time (length of the bond) and cut the interest. We need to consider the upkeep of the building too.”

Option four, a 2.1 mill bond renewal for 20 years with a one mill sinking fund for ten years (a total of 3.1 mills) on the November would provide immediate funds, be for fewer years with much less interest costs and raise immediate funds for the district needs, but nearly $11,200,000 would have to be cut from the list of needs. With a ten year sinking fund, renewed in ten years, it would address the concern of many by providing funds for the long range needs. The bond would raise $13.3 million and the one mill sinking fund over ten years would add $4,851,420 for the district, and $438,250 in the first year.

Board President Joe Maxey said the sinking fund is a big concern because there’s no plan for the future. “Number four makes sense to me.”

Option five, a bond renewal of 2.2 mills for 19 years, 3 months plus a .9 mill increase for the same period would raise 79 percent of the funds or over $19 million with less than 50 percent of the interest costs, reducing those from $17.7 million to $8.8 million over the length of the bond.

Scoville said option 5 “gained the most support during the community forums, gaining 36 percent of the votes.” It would require cutting only $5.2 million from the list of needs for the district.

Issuing the bond in two series, one for 19 years, 3 months and the second for 17 years and 9 month would increase the funds available for the project to $19.3 million and cost the district 49 percent of the interest that the $24.5 million bond would have cost. Thirty-six percent of those attending the forums preferred this option.

Eliminating the proposed bus loop, architectural work in renovating the Elementary east wind, architectural and remodeling/canopy at the Jaime Center, eliminating the new bus garage, maintenance building, Timberland work, the electrical shed, water pressure tank and new ticket booth at the athletic field and the new construction of classrooms on the west wing of the Elementary would save a total of $6,901,686.

Tonight, Friday at 6 p.m. the Board expects to make a decision to determine what they will do to address the district’s needs. To get ready for the July 2nd preliminary qualification to Thrun Law Firm, Johnson Controls will need their decision by June 17th at the latest. July 9th is the deadline for the Department of Treasury, Monday July 15 for the BOE approval for a November proposal on the ballot.

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