Lincoln bond poised for revote

LINCOLN — Following the 237-222 defeat of the Lincoln Community School’s $2 million bond proposal last Tuesday, the Lincoln school board had some decisions to make.
At a special meeting on Thursday, members decided to put the same bond proposal up for a second vote on March 1, following the Feb. 28 town meeting day.
“We met last night and went around and talked about it and decided to put it before the voters again at town meeting,” Chairman David Venman said in an interview on Friday. “Essentially, it’s the same plan.”
According to Venman, members of the board feel as though those who voted “no” on Jan. 18 do not quite understand the implications of not bonding.
“From the feedback we got, we don’t think that the message really got out to people,” Venman said. “Most of the people who voted no did so because they didn’t want to pay more in taxes. Unfortunately, voting the bond down is really a vote to increase taxes. The bond is the lower tax option. We concluded that people just misunderstood.”
Venman explained that if the town does nothing to repair the school now, a future building malfunction could cost Lincoln residents much more money down the road, and could draw Lincoln ever closer to becoming a “gold town,” — a designation that requires schools with per-pupil spending above a certain threshold to pay a penalty to the state.
At an informational meeting on Jan. 13, one Lincoln resident brought forth a handful of grants that he thought school board members should look into in lieu of bonding.
“We’ve been looking into grants right along, and as a result of our meeting last week, we got some more information on other avenues to explore, though none look very promising,” Venman said. “We’re also going to be contacting federal representatives to see if they can assist us, which also doesn’t seem very promising, but we intend to exhaust every avenue.”
But bonding, Venman said, is the town’s best option.
“We really think this is the best way to address the school’s issues from all the different perspectives, including controlling our property taxes,” he said.
If the bond is defeated a second time, Lincoln residents could see a spike in their property taxes, regardless, Venman said.
“What will happen is we’ve got a handful of very serious physical problems at the school that need to be fixed — we’re just running to the end of the natural life of these systems, including the roof, siding, ventilation, and heat,” he said. “These are things that are going to come up in the very near future and we could be forced to fix them in the next year or two, possibly three.”
These expenditures would have to come out of the school’s yearly budget, he continued.
 “At some point, we’re going to have some catastrophic failures, going to have to fix it within the budget and all of that money will count towards our gold town standard,” he said. “And we’ll have to spend it all in one or two or three years. If we spend all this money in a concentrated period of time, what that does is spike property taxes. Because we are a small town, relatively small fluctuations in our budget have a drastic effect on our property taxes and on the measurement the state uses to determine gold town status.”
Before the unchanged proposal comes to a vote for a second time on March 1, the school board plans to host an additional informational meeting on the school’s budget and on the bond. Venman said that the meeting is tentatively set for Monday, Feb. 28. In the meantime, a group of parents and townspeople will be working to get the word out on the pros of purchasing the bond.
“Based on what we heard from the vote and talking to people, it was clear that we hadn’t gotten the right information out clearly to the voters,” Venman said. “By bringing it up again, chance to clearly address everything. Basically, we’re going to do some more outreach — talk to more people, make more phone calls, write more.”
Should the bond pass the second time around, Venman is hopeful that the construction schedule and price tag will remain mostly the same as originally planned. Though the Jan. 18 defeat of the proposal has eliminated the chance to hop onto the fleeting Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) that would have saved around $75,000 in purchase cost, the board has another plan.
“We lost our chance to do that, however it looks as if there is another alternative that’s come up that could give us an even lower interest rate — a one-percent bond,” Venman said.
Despite the first-round defeat, Venman is hopeful that a little more information will change the minds of the naysayers.
“As distasteful as it is to spend $2 million, it’s still the cheapest alternative,” he said. “If we don’t pass it, we’re in serious risk of becoming a gold town. A bond allows us to control the cost and we will know exactly what will go in the budget every year. Without one, we’ll be in a downward spiral of failure. We’re already spending a ton of money on service calls and band-aids and until we fix these things, we’re going to continue to pay. We’re wasting tens of thousands on service calls that don’t need to be spent.”
Tamara Hilmes is at tamarah@addisonindependent.com.

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