By Mary-Justine Lanyon
It’s a topic the trustees of the Rim of the World Unified School District have been discussing: the need to float a general obligation bond and the feasibility of doing so.
At their workshop on March 30, the school board heard from Adam Bauer, a municipal advisor and president of Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates, Inc.
Bauer told the trustees that the presidential election cycle is “usually favorable for general obligation bond measures.” Should the Rim district choose to float a bond, it would be in 2024, as part of either the March or November ballot.
The first step, as outlined by Bauer, would be for the district to conduct a feasibility study, which would include the election timeline, the bond amount, the tax rate and a look at any competing issues.
The board approved an action item at the workshop, awarding a contract to True North Research, Inc. to create and conduct the feasibility study. True North had conducted a similar study for the 2020 bond measure, which failed.
“Mountains Community Hospital had a measure on the same ballot, which hurt us,” Trustee Dana Ridland said. Trustee Cindy Gardner said they had tried to convince voters that both things – education and healthcare – were of value. The hospital measure passed.
Looking at historical data on assessed value, Bauer pointed out that “you hung in there during the downturn.” Some districts down the hill, he pointed out, suffered a 20-percent decline in assessed value.
The assessed value, Bauer explained to The Alpine Mountaineer, includes all the taxable property within the school district’s boundaries: both residential and commercial property but excludes government-owned property. Due to Proposition 13, he added, assessed value is typically lower than market value.
“That helps me advocate on your behalf when we meet with rating agencies,” Bauer said.
The “work from anywhere” environment has also helped the Rim district, he noted. “Your tax base has increased.” He added that Rim’s 2022-2023 assessed value of $8.4 billion is “actually quite high.”
Rim’s gross bonding capacity is $211 million, which the district can only access with voter approval. Of that $211 million, there is a remaining capacity of more than $193 million.
“This is a compelling story for the community that you have not asked much of them,” Bauer said. “There are districts that have to apply to the state for a waiver to exceed their statutory bonding capacity.
“It’s important for you to understand that you have done a lot with what you have and haven’t asked the community for much,” Bauer said.
Bauer shared a slide documenting the Measure W facilities bond, which was passed by 61.62 percent of voters on Nov. 4, 2008. That measure authorized the issuance of $23,240,000 in general obligation bonds. The district, Bauer explained, has issued four series of new money general obligation bonds under Measure W; no unissued authorization remains.
There would be, Bauer noted, a long gap between that Measure W bond in 2008 and a potential bond in 2024. There are some districts, he said, that are managing three general obligation bonds at once. “Rim has not issued a bond since 2008.”
Bauer also shared slides showing a 2024 general obligation bond at $20, $30, $40, $50 and $60 tax rates. “I don’t have an answer on whether you should issue a bond at $20, $60 or in between.
“I’m asking you to do a survey of the community.” That survey, Bauer said, will ask residents how they feel about improving school facilities, school safety. How they feel about property tax increases. The survey will help gauge how much the community will support a bond measure.
Bauer told the trustees he thinks the November 2024 election cycle would work best for them. However, he urged them to begin work now so they would be ready for March 2024, if that looked like the better choice.
“We are still reeling from the recent storms,” Ridland said. “As a country, we are experiencing inflation and rising costs. Is there any historical data to show how these events might impact people’s openness to passing a bond?”
Bauer replied that we “haven’t seen inflation like this since this early 80s. That is a national issue. It’s not showing up in the surveys right now.
“You raise a good point – we do not want to be in the field when people are driving by six feet of snow. I had not thought of that. You might want to draft a survey but not get into the field until someone can actually call a roofer. We generally like to do it [a survey] before school is out for the year. Look at a May time frame.”
Ridland added that the Crestline community will likely be without a grocery store for close to a year. “Is that something we should consider?”
“As much as it hurts,” Bauer said, “that might actually help.” Folks might recognize the danger of structural damage to the Rim facilities. At past school board meetings, the trustees have pointed to leaky roofs and the need for air conditioning to make the campuses more conducive to learning. “We don’t know the answer until we get the survey results.”
At the end of the discussion, Bauer said that “the more I think about the grocery store issue, the more I realize it’s terrible for the community but it puts a glaring light on the need to improve Rim’s facilities.”
Ridland added that “our facilities were used as shelters, which probably saved lives. Our superintendent was the voice during the disaster.”
“That is a positive,” Bauer said. “You have good momentum going into this.”
Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Fricker said she is “somewhat optimistic in the process and where our district is sitting. The recent storms shed light on our infrastructure in need of improvements.”
And President Bill Mellinger concluded that “the survey will give us insight into the numbers we go for.”