Emotions running high on next bond attempt

Opinion

Beside the Point

CHUCK VANDENBERG

Tony Baxter told me he doesn’t seek out the media. He said he got burned a couple years back and tries to stay away from the press. After a couple different times of trying to reach him for one article or another, I had no trouble believing that when I finally had a chance to talk with him on Tuesday.

We’ve all heard by now that he pulled the Baxter Foundation’s funding for 2019 and possibly further into the future because of the Fort Madison Community School District’s decision last fall to go with Carl A. Nelson out of Burlington as construction manager if the April 2 bond vote passes to build a new PreK-3rd grade elementary school next to the middle school on Bluff Road.

The district needs 60 percent plus one vote to break ground on the new school that Superintendent Erin Slater said would be operational by 2021.

I asked Tony what he would say to the people that say this is sour grapes.

“What do I say… ? Am I upset that I didn’t get the project…Yep.”

Baxter called the decision a let down and wasteful spending. He said he offered a program that would have cost less and resulted in tax dollars staying in the community, not to mention potential donations to upgrade fields at the Sports Complex to be high school compliant to solve some of the athletic facility issues at FMHS.

To hinder the youth in order to upset the voting booth is a move probably only Baxter could make. When you’ve given for decades to a school that goes outside the area for a large project, for whatever reasons, your consternation is outside our judgment.

But it leaves a bad taste in our mouth for sure. Not unlike the one Baxter probably had last fall when hearing his company didn’t win the project.

We don’t know what dollar value would have been attached to the Foundation donations in 2019. We don’t have the right to assume any. We don’t know what programs are going to be hurt. Inevitably, something, and more importantly someone, is going to suffer.

We’re not entitled to be upset with Baxter because he was funding the Foundation out of his own pocket, yet we find ourselves fighting that instinct. That’s goofy behavior modification, but no one’s entitled to someone else’s philanthropy. Or is that how far we’ve come?

There are many families in Fort Madison that give… and give… and give. Names like Baxter, Pothitakis, Denning, Scoville, Mohrfeld, Rashid come quickly to mind. But many…many others do as well, and some don’t even want their name out there.

It’s our experience from being around these people that they give because they feel a greater purpose and sense of community… and they’ve cultivated resources to be able to give back. We think the district erred in not seeing that same sense of community. It was a tight vote 4-3. And the current board probably would have voted 4-3 the other way.

Did Baxter’s pull the right arrow from the quiver? From the reaction to our story, it certainly hit its target.

Baxter said he sincerely hopes a new school gets built, but wants this referendum to fail because there are better programs out there that can benefit the community and possibly cost less than the one in front of the board.

Aside from Baxter’s decision, which will effect some votes and some not, our issue is not with the Foundation decision. Our issue is a matter of transparency.

The district is saying the tax impact of the bond is 16 cents per $1,000 of taxable valuation. A closer look at the district’s levy worksheet will show that 16 cents is what you will be paying over and above what you paid last year to the school district. A steal for a new school, but not totally transparent.

The actual tax impact of the bond is $2.70/$1,000 taxable value. That’s called a debt service levy and that levy of property tax dollars is used to pay back the bonds over 20 years. The debt service for $30 million on your tax bill will be $2.70 of the district’s proposed $14.60 2019 fiscal year levy. If the bond issue doesn’t pass, that debt service levy will not be included in the approved budget.

Telling the average homeowner they are going to pay just under $9 per year and get a new building is disingenuous to the district tax payers, in our opinion. Actually you’re going to pay $9 more per year to get a new building than you paid in fiscal year 2018. Again…a steal at twice the price.

Granted, the district didn’t have a $30 million debt service levy attached to the 2018 levy, but due to the increased valuation in the county, state mandated formulas pushed the district’s operational levy down this year to around $11.90.

Building the debt service back into the picture pushes the levy back up to $14.60. So in plain vanilla language, the average homeowner is going to pay $2.70/$1,000 of taxable value yearly to build that school, but because of increased valuations to the county, the total increase in the district levy would be just 16 cents per $1,000.

Pen City Current wrote an article on the levy on March 3 that explains this in greater detail. Those numbers were verified by school officials before the story ran.

We can’t wait much longer to get this done, but we have to be transparent. People have a right to know the reality of what they’re paying for and how much they are paying. This school needs to be built. Our current and future students need it to go up…whether it’s Nelson or eventually Baxter, or someone else who builds it, it needs to go up.

Absentee voting is on going. Voting is taking place Friday before Dinner Theater from 12:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m. at the Fort Madison High School and on March 29 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Foggy Conference Room at Fort Madison Community Hospital.

Oh…and you can vote at the polls on April 2, too…but that’s quickly becoming Beside the Point.

About Chuck Vandenberg 4727 Articles
Pen City Current and pencitycurrent.com are products of Market Street Publishing, LLC, a multi-platform media company delivering hyper-local news, sports and advertising information to Fort Madison, IA and surrounding communities.

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