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Jefferson County School District plans on seeking $24 million for infrastructure

Jefferson County School District 509-J Board members gave approval to pursue exploration of a $24 million bond levy in November 2021 during a board meeting Monday evening.

The Long Range Facility Plan says that the school district is in a unique situation where past debt will be retiring and an additional bond could be added without raising property taxes.

Design West Architects completed a facilities assessment report on all of the district's student-occupied buildings last June and proposed several improvements.

Design West recommended that these funds be used for facility improvements, such as Wi-Fi infrastructure, technology upgrades, roof repair or replacement, facility maintenance, lighting, safety features, and heating and cooling system upgrades.

The district conducted an online survey in December to get an idea of how supportive voters would be of a bond levy to upgrade facilities. Of the 69 survey participants, 76% said they would support a $10 million bond.

"When the long-range facilities plan was conducted and finalized in December, we thought we only had $10 million. It was only until late January we discovered it was actually $24 million," explained District Chief Financial Officer Martha Bewley.

She said the district is high on the state priority list for the Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching Program and would be eligible for a $4 million grant should the bond levy pass.

The district is considering partnering with Ameresco, a renewable energy company, that could help the district use energy savings to pay for improvements.

Bewley said the district could plan for a bond levy on the Nov. 2 ballot or wait until the May 17, 2022, election. She noted the upcoming superintendent transition period but pointed out that much of the bond preparation work would be completed before the new superintendent comes on board July 1.

Board members also discussed other Jefferson County taxing district levies that could appear on upcoming ballots but ultimately decided to pursue a bond levy for this fall's election.

Bewley said the district initially had a levy rate analysis completed in April of 2019. That levy rate analysis projected that 509-J would be able to pursue a $10 million bond without raising property tax.

In February of 2020, the district refinanced and restructured the 2013 general obligation bonds that financed the Performing Arts Center and half of the Warm Springs K-8 building; the refinance saved taxpayers $2.17 million, Bewley reported.

"As a result of this refinance and restructuring, along with the current interest rates, the levy rate analysis complete in January of 2021 shows that the district would now be able to pursue a $24 million without raising property taxes," she explained.

"This is not $10 million anymore," Bewley said. "You have the opportunity to leverage at least $28 million. There's a lot more than you can do with $28 million than you can with $10 to $14 million."

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