Morenci school board seeks bond approval 2.27

Written by David Green.

Just give us five years with no changes. That’s what Morenci Board of Education members are seeking in the annual May school election.

Five years of the existing school bond millage rate will pay the cost of a wide variety of maintenance needs, and board members believe this will be the most painless manner to get the job accomplished.

School board members are seeking voter approval of a measure to borrow $1.4 million and pay back the loan by maintaining the current bond millage rate of 7.0 mills—the millage passed overwhelming by voters in 2002, primarily for construction of a new middle school.

The new bond would pay for work at the  elementary school, constructed in 1957, and at the high school, constructed in 1969. It would also cover replacement of the deteriorating running track and allow the district to pursue energy saving opportunities.

“The longer we wait, the worse it’s going to get,” said board president Dwight Mansfield about problems at the elementary and high school buildings.

While other districts in the area are seeking additional years added on to existing bonds or enlarging existing debts, Morenci’s board chose an approach that requires no increase in the current debt millage.

“The board explored other options and they feel this is the most conservative approach for the times,” said Superintendent of Schools Kyle Griffith. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Board member Merton Easler agrees.

“We’re trying to think outside the box,” he said. “It’s the best way to keep up our facilities without burdening the taxpayer for any more money.”

In 2005 the board refinanced the existing bond for a significant savings in interest costs. This resulted in a new repayment schedule with fewer mills needed to cover the loan.

The new bond proposal, added to the existing bond, would maintain the total millage at 7.0 mills for five years before the amount begins to drop. The savings taxpayers would have received will be postponed for five years.

Over the five-year period, the cost for the owner of a $100,000 home averages less than $40 a year, or about 11 cents a day.

If money is not raised through the new bond, Griffith said, maintenance needs will be paid through the dwindling general fund. The district’s fund equity now stands at about $800,000, but this year’s deficit is expected to lessen that amount by $90,000.

A continuing weak economy will lead to additional deficit budgets despite the numerous cuts the board had made in recent years.

Financial support from the state doesn’t keep up with increasing costs, Easler said, and the district keeps cutting every year. This leaves very little cash to cover the district’s needs.

“The general fund is for education,” Griffith said. “The board shouldn’t have to choose between textbooks and replacing asbestos flooring.”

Preventive maintenance will save time and money in the future, he added.

“We don’t want to wait until there’s a problem,” he said. “We want to avoid operating in the emergency mode.”

The vast majority of school funding is related to enrollment and those numbers are decreasing across the state, including in the Morenci district.

“Costs continue to go up,” Griffith said, “and the general fund is going to take a hit. The community knows the board has had to make a lot of tough decisions regarding finances. The bond won’t eliminate the tough decisions, but it’s going to give us the opportunity to take care of some basic needs.”

Mansfield sees the proposal as the best alternative.

“I know people aren’t going to be happy with it,” he said, “but I think we’re fortunate we can do it this way. I’m happy that it’s not a new tax.”

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