Our Opinion: Despite concerns, latest PCC bond deserves support
We generally support school funding measures, and we're backing Portland Community College's current request to extend a long-term bond. But we do so with some caveats.
Measure 26-196 would raise $185 million to fund a variety of projects and programs. They include:
-- Replacing PCC's outdated workforce training center in Northeast Portland;
-- Rehabbing an aging health-and-technology building on the Sylvania campus;
-- Building a child care development center on the Rock Creek campus; and
-- Upgrading security, boosting energy efficiency and improving access for disabled students on all campuses.
So why are we hesitant in our endorsement?
Let's start with the last PCC bond that voters approved. In 2008, voters agreed to tax themselves to the tune of $374 million so PCC could expand its Sylvania and Cascade campuses and construct mini-campuses in Newberg and Columbia County. Voters came through, but in at least two instances, PCC didn't.
The $7.2 million structure built in Newberg was a boondoggle. As Pamplin Media Group's Nick Budnick reported, just four years after the building went up, its environmentally friendly roof proved to be rot-friendly, too, requiring a $3.5 million fix.
And in Columbia County, PCC has yet to break ground.
The most troubling aspect of the Newberg fiasco is that documents obtained by Budnick show PCC officials had been warned by the college's facilities manager that the failure of the "green" roof was tied directly to poor oversight of the bond program.
In Columbia County, PCC deserves credit for partnering with the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center near the Scappoose Airport to provide training to college students and industrial workers. But that's an opportunity that fell in the college's lap largely through the efforts of manufacturers and other academic institutions.
Columbia County residents, whose combined taxes for PCC exceed $1 million a year, rightly feel that PCC has not yet lived up to the promise it made nine years ago.
But despite all that, we support Measure 26-196.
After voters in the 1990s artificially limited the growth in local property taxes — the historic source of education funding — schools, including community colleges, have had to ask voters to fund specific capital improvement projects and, more recently, programs.
Recognizing this, the Oregon Legislature recently expanded the types of projects that can be bonded by school districts and colleges to include items that previously might have been considered maintenance.
Because Oregon's tax system is out of whack, this type of bond measure has become necessary for public colleges and school districts to properly maintain their facilities. The 2008 construction bond, despite its problems, was necessary.
And if the current bond fails, the vital projects on the list will have to be postponed, scaled-back or eliminated.
PCC plays a key role in the region. Its enrollment is three times that of the University of Oregon. In a time of economic expansion, it provides crucial job training. And the projects and programs that would be funded by this bond make sense. In many cases, the renovations and maintenance have already been postponed too long. And other campus improvements are aimed at ensuring that PCC graduates are learning with the same tools currently used in the workplaces seeking to hire them.
The general obligation bond is structured so that property owners would pay no more than 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for 16 years. For someone who owns a house assessed at $200,000, that pencils out to $80 a year. That's the same rate property owners within the PCC district currently are paying now, so it wouldn't raise their tax bills.
And despite our concerns over how a small portion of the 2008 bond was handled, PCC administrators have designed this bond measure with sensitivity toward taxpayers and an eye toward the critical needs of the local work force.
PCC is the institution that regional industries most depend upon to provide needed training, and it has helped hundreds of thousands of students achieve their personal goals. Voters would be wise to continue their long-running investment in PCC's facilities, while also insisting that college officials and a bond oversight committee ensure that the public's money is well spent.
— Editorial Board, Pamplin Media Group