Alert! Alert! Alert! The Hays USD 489 school board has scheduled a vote this November on its humongous $78 million school bond for brick and mortar improvements to Hays schools. It's slick, glossy, four-color mailing advertising the bond election recently hit the mailboxes. The headline “Truth-in-Bonding” alludes to the Truth-in-Lending requirements that were imposed on lenders years ago whenever someone borrows money to buy a home. More on that below.
What every voting property taxpayer living in the USD 489 school district must fully understand is this: In addition to the jumbo $78 million bond, the school board members have bound every property taxpayer to pay an equally gargantuan sum of money for interest over and above bond principal. How much you ask? $75.9 million.
Add those two numbers together and voila, the $78 million bond becomes a whopping $154 million debt for property owners to pay off. Let me repeat — this school bond proposal requires a principal payment of $2.6 million and an interest payment of $2.53 million per year for 30 years.
Make no mistake, property owners, USD 489 school board members are proposing the largest property tax increase in the history of Ellis County. And the amounts proposed in previous bond elections aren't even in the same universe.
In the past when someone borrowed money to buy a home, they were told what the interest rate would be on their loan but not how much extra interest added to their debt over the life of the loan. So, the federal government decided there should be Truth-In-Lending. Full disclosure was necessary so the borrower could make an informed decision before they signed any loan documents. Truth-in-Bonding thus requires the following full disclosure: Property tax owners are not being asked to just approve a bond debt of $78 million, but rather a breathtaking debt of $154 million.
Yet again, USD 489 board members are telling us: Just trust us with $154 million of your money because we know best, and don't ask us where one of the new elementary schools will be located — just trust us to figure it all out after the election. Yet again the school board is assuming no reasonable person could possibly deny the children the benefit of right sized classrooms and new brick and mortar schools. Yet again, the Vision Team process the school board set up to produce the bond proposal was flawed from the beginning and the viewpoint of the community at large was essentially dismissed.
How else to explain why the school board members ignored the polling results of their out of town, not disinterested, architects’ robocall poll where 60 percent of the respondents favored smaller, more frequent bonds and 41 percent wanted no more than $10 per month increase in property taxes? Or how about the Hays Post poll on June 23, 2017, (well before the school board members voted to push the monster bond forward) where, out of a total of 1,187 responses (better participation than the architect’s robocall survey) 58.37 percent voted no on the $78 million bond proposal, 37.55 percent were in favor and 9.08 percent were undecided.
The no vote, not surprisingly, represents that segment of the community of which I have attempted to give a voice over the past few months, obviously to no avail. The yes vote represents the 85 percent of the individuals that controlled, along with the architects, the Vision Team and the proposed bond. Apparently such facts were mere inconveniences to the school board.
One wonders how much thought, if any, the school board gave to the economic impact of a ginormous $154 million tax increase on our local economy that is staggering under the weight of low oil and ag commodity prices. How will removing $154 million of purchasing power from the local economy affect local car sales, restaurant sales or retail sales in general (attention Hays city commissioners!)? How will the largest property tax increase in the history of Ellis County affect seniors who own property and are on fixed incomes?
The ultimate Truth-in-Bonding is simply this: There are absolutely other options and possibilities the Vision Team and school board simply didn’t want to take the time to consider and explore that would cost less money to achieve and still make educational sense. The question the school board should answer is this: What harm would have come from further analysis and other options?