LP-A gears up for bond vote
There was some of the usual back and forth between 'yes' and 'no' votes, but also some surprising comments from those attending an information meeting in Cormorant Thursday on Lake Park-Audubon's proposed building bond referendum.
"I voted twice against the referendum, because I though it was excessive," said Bob Leiseth of rural Lake Park. "If we defeat this bond issue this time and we split up into other districts -- I guarantee you'll pay double in taxes what you do right now."
About 65 people attended the meeting, the second of three held by the district prior to the Nov. 4 vote on its $19.67 million bond referendum. The last meeting will be 7:30 p.m. Monday at the school in Audubon.
On the other side of the issue, Paul Schmidt, a former construction engineer, had a number of questions for the board. He said that everybody in government "from the federal government right on down to the courthouse, thinks there's money unlimited," from taxpayers.
He asked if anybody had considered the big picture county-wide as far as school facilities, and said it looked to him like the district was planning to build a school bigger than necessary in Lake Park and then close down the Audubon school.
School board members in the audience reacted with disbelief, and Superintendent Dale Hogie said enrollment would have to drop by half -- from more than 600 now to about 300, to fit all the students into the new 7-12 school in Lake Park.
Far from building the new school larger than necessary, it is actually on the low end of state guidelines for a district the size of LP-A, Hogie said.
Cheryl Aune of Cormorant spoke passionately about the need to provide a proper education for children, even if it requires paying more property taxes. It's a "moral imperative" to do the right thing by the younger generation, she said.
There were some questions about the financial meltdown on Wall Street and how it will affect the bond market.
The district's financial consultant, Ehlers & Associates, is predicting the district will pay no more than 4.9 percent on a 20-year bond issuance.
"When we put these projections together, we always try to be as conservative as possible," said Betsy Knoche of Ehlers & associates. "Even though there's been a lot of turmoil in the bond market, just in the last four days, actually," she is still confident that the interest will be 4.9 percent or lower.
Schmidt predicted that the big stock market losses of recent days will result in sharply higher bond interest rates, but the feeling in Cormorant seemed curiously optimistic in some ways, in spite of the financial drama on the national scene.
For one thing, gasoline prices have been dropping steadily as investors flee oil on the commodity market. That puts more money in the pockets of taxpayers.
And construction bids have been coming in lower than expected, as much as 10 percent under estimates, because area contractors are hungry for work, said Steve Gehrtz of Gehrtz Construction Services, who will serve as the district's construction manager if the bond levy is approved.
"It's an extremely competitive market right now," said Gehrtz, who recently bid two church projects in the Fargo area. "We are in a very, very good bidding market right now, even though raw material process are higher -- contractors want to keep their people busy."
School Board candidate George Kohn asked whether the district had written authorization from MnDOT for an access onto Highway 10, and questioned why the bond vote would proceed without securing permission.
Hogie said he has been talking to MnDOT, the agency is aware of the district's plans, and has left infrastructure in place for turn lanes and highway access onto Highway 10.
In fact, he said, if Lake Park annexes the area (across from Cenex) MnDOT will pay for turn lanes and other access improvements that are deemed necessary for highway safety, Hogie said.
Bill Hudson of Cormorant asked about the results of a survey the district had sent out earlier, and criticized the board for not including an option for 'no' voters.
"Doing nothing is just not an option for us,'" Hogie said. Between 500-600 surveys were returned, not enough for the board to use as a guidepost, Board Member Rick Ellsworth said.
Board candidate Dan Hughes accused Hogie of sending out the surveys against the wishes of the school board, an accusation that mystified board members at the meeting -- Lori Bartunek, Dale Binde, Vicky Grondahl, Jeff Swetland, and Ellsworth -- and that they and Hogie denied.
Hughes also accused Hogie of saying at an earlier school board meeting that there would be "no maintenance costs" associated with a new school. That accusation and others had board members shaking their heads and were vigorously denied by Hogie.
There was a wide-ranging discussion about how much the plan will cost, and whether it would be cheaper to dissolve the district and divide it up among surrounding districts, including Detroit Lakes and Hawley.
The district's tax levy will actually drop 7.3 percent next year, to $130 on a $100,000 from $155 this year.
If the bond issue passes, it will cost the owner of a $100,000 home another $162 a year, for a total of $292.
The state average is $371.
In Detroit Lakes, the owner of a $100,00 home pays $201 a year in school taxes.
In Hawley, it's $478 per year. Both districts would have to build or add on to their facilities if LP-A were to dissolve.
A third and final public meeting was held Monday in Audubon.