VUHS adds to size of proposed bond, but the tax impact declines

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School board agreed on Monday to add this past spring’s roofing loan into a winter bond vote and set balloting for Dec. 10, not Dec. 3 as had previously been discussed.
The decision — expected to be made final at a 7:30 a.m. special meeting on Monday at the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office — means ANwSU residents will be considering not a $2.2 million VUHS bond, but one for $2.88 million to pay for a new kitchen and cafeteria, auditorium upgrades, new middle school gym bleachers, and trim and exterior site work.
But, VUHS officials said, the decision will mean residents of the five ANwSU towns will also see a smaller tax increase if the bond passes.
That’s because paying the voter-approved $600,000 roofing loan over 20 years instead of over the five-year bank loan term saves about $80,000 a year over those five years.
According to estimates provided by ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon, separate payments for both a $2.28 million bond and a $600,000 loan would mean a property tax increase of 3 cents next year, followed by a roughly 5-cent hike over the next four years.
But if the roofing loan is rolled into a $2.88 million bond, the first-year tax hike would be about 1.1 cents, followed by an increase of 3.7 cents in the second year that would gradually decrease to 3.5 cents in the fifth year.
The difference is almost $20 in taxes per $100,000 of assessed value in the first year, and $13 to $14 per $100,000 of assessed value over the next four years.
After five years, payments on the combined bonds would be higher by about 0.7 cents a year, Cannon estimated, or $7 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Those estimates are based on fiscal year 2014 calculations, Cannon said, and would vary somewhat in individual towns based on their Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs) of property tax values.
Board members were questioned about the proposal on Monday by about a dozen residents, most of whom came from Panton to protest their recent property tax increase of roughly 18 cents. About half of that increase was due to the town’s low CLA, and the rest due to high per-pupil spending in ANwSU schools, according to state officials.
Certainly, Monday evening’s meeting began with skepticism.
“I truly hope this is not a wish list,” said Panton resident Cheryl McEwan of the bond.
McEwan as the meeting opened read a statement asking questions of and demanding answers from the board about budgeting, declining enrollment and per-pupil spending (see related story).
Board members, however, said the work proposed simply took care of what facilities committee member Jeffry Glassberg called “deferred maintenance.”
“There is not fat,” Glassberg said. “We are dealing with the critical components.”
Proposed work to be funded by the $2.88 million bond includes:
•  A complete rebuild of and new equipment for the kitchen and cafeteria, which date back to the school’s 1958 construction.
•  A new heating and ventilation system and enough rigging, lighting and sound improvements for the auditorium to make it safe and usable for performances, although equipment will have to be rented for musicals. The auditorium, closed after failing an August safety inspection, would also be painted and thoroughly cleaned, board members said.
•  New bleachers and backboards for the middle school gym. Officials said the current bleachers failed inspection and are nailed closed.
•  Repairs to the western sidewalk to fix flooding, new handicap and guest parking spaces, a reconfigured bus pick-up and drop-off area, and work to stop water from infiltrating the school’s foundation.
•  Soffit repairs under eaves where roofing has just been replaced; that work was not done this fall because the estimated cost of roofing repairs came in high.
•  The ongoing roofing of the classroom wing and auditorium.
Glassberg, a real estate developer, said the facilities committee went over all the numbers and estimates to make sure the current estimates are more accurate, and that the December vote will allow for more favorable timing in obtaining bids over the winter.
Board and facilities committee member Neil Kamman assured those at the meeting the auditorium would be better than it was before it was closed. He and Glassberg noted that previously the existing, original ventilation and heating system could not be used when it was most needed, during performances when the auditorium was full, because it was too loud.
“(There will be) restoration of the full functionality that was there previously, but cleaned, smelling better and ventilated,” Kamman said.
Glassberg again emphasized the bond was step one in a four-phase plan. Board members also hope to bump up the line item in the budget for annual maintenance after discovering VUHS lagged behind comparable schools in that department; establish capital funds and contribute to them annually to reduce future reliance on bonding; and propose a major upgrade bond in 2021, when the current major bond expires that is paying for the 2000 VUHS expansion and upgrade project.
Glassberg said he hoped at that time the VUHS board could devote some of the savings “to the school budget, and some to improvement.”
By the end of the meeting, residents said they supported the bond, but still sought corresponding spending cuts.
“I assume you’re going to spend an equal amount of time also looking for offsets,” said Panton resident Paul Tippett.
McEwan made a similar point.
“You’ve pretty much convinced me it’s really needed,” McEwan said. “But where are you going to cut to make up the difference?”
Board members in the evening also began the difficult task of discussing the 2014-2015 budget. In the meantime, they said the kitchen improvements and other possible upgrades would save energy and money, although how much was hard to quantify. For example, the new cooler would be an exterior addition and not subject to kitchen heat.
“The efficiency opportunities are real,” Kamman said. “But we don’t know the numbers yet.”
Board chairman Kurt Haigis said taking care of deferred maintenance with the bond would also cut costs in the long run.
“We’ll be able to save money in the outlying years if we do this now,” Haigis said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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