Orland organic farmer Charlie Johnson begs to differ. Below is his commentary, which appeared in last night's print MDL:
First of all, let us provide a few facts before the discussion. A bond issuance is collateralized by the taxable value of real estate within the taxing entity. There is no deferment for cases of unemployment, poor crop years, declining income, sour economy, etc. The bond commitment is for 25 years. Most home mortgages taken out today do not extend out that far. A $16.9 Million bond issue averages about 48,000 per MHS student (16.9 million /350). For every registered voter in Madison school district, the average commitment is $2600 (16.9 million/6500).
By estimation, property tax levies will increase 11.3% (2/11.3) on bare agricultural land in Orland Township. The increase just on school levy will be 26.5% (2/9.1). For an owner occupied home in Madison the increase in levies will be 9.7% (2/20.6). The increase in school levy will be 21.9% (2/9.1). These percentages could change slightly in future years as property valuations fluctuate and tax requests by all entities change. It would be an accurate statement to say that property tax increases will be anywhere from 8% to 20%-perhaps more. The impact will vary from agricultural land to commercial to residential. The same can be expected for property located within Madison versus property in one of the townships. Keep in mind also the capital outlay fund and levy (3 mills) is committed in large part for 12 more years to pay for the recently built elementary school.
A former friend and county commissioner, Bud Giles, on many occasions pointed out that there is a difference between wants and needs. He stressed also there was importance to know the difference. Elected officials have the responsibility to aggressively address the needs while prioritizing wants as time and resources become available. Like most projects, the MHS facility project is a combination of wants and needs. We need to provide safety and function of the school building by improving lighting, ventilation, wiring, plumbing, and other upgrades. We want to improve programs by relocating and expanding rooms, adding additions, and building a new gym. There is no excuse for failing to take care of needs. There is nothing wrong inherently wrong in bringing discussion to a well planned, prioritized list of wants. Reality is that you have the money. Never should accumulating wants be placed on top of needs in an attempt to justify the latter.
Within this sobering commentary, I offer a 4 part recommendation to the MHS facility project.
Regardless of the outcome of the bond issue, the sad commentary is that education as a whole will continue to suffer as funding levels fail to provide enough money for adequate salaries and resources for our educators. We are asking an 18th century tax system to provide for 21st century education and it is failing miserably. If only persons eligible under the times in the 18th century were allowed to vote on the facility project bond issue, the bond issue in Madison would be decided by whites who were male and property owners. How about that for progress?
- $16.9 million is too high and unrealistic. Cap the bond issue at $10 million. Even at that figure, we are doubling up on debt for the school district. Is it prudent for the district to implement a financial step that most households and businesses would not consider? If the facility project carries on a higher figure, it must do so with private money or other sources.
- Regardless of how the bond issue is decided, take the responsible steps to provide safety and function of the building by taking care of the upgrades that are needed. Many of the voters who opposed the spectator gym in 2007 felt the need for improvements at MHS was more important.
- In the area of wants, consider a fine arts annex to provide more room for band and chorus. Do not destroy a perfectly good wooden floor gym as a spiraling attempt to justify a new spectator gym. Adult recreation programs use the present gym space extensively. Providing practice times for all sports at all grade levels, boys and girls is a premium and plus for proper programming. Eliminating a fantastic gym floor is wrong regardless of whether a spectator gym is built or not.
- The spectator gym is a definite want and should be funded with other sources. Supporters of a spectator gym may want to consider a partnership with the city of Madison to develop a vision of a true events center that will attract and cater to events throughout the year.