Tax levy season begins

The Mercer Island School Board has cut its originally proposed 2008 capital facilities levy by $4 million, saving the amount for a future capital facilities bond. The decision was proposed by interim Superintendent Gary Plano during a special School Board meeting on Jan. 3 organized to discuss the preliminary levy.

“We tried every possible way to make cuts,” said School Board President Pat Braman. “It’s hard. We want to be responsible to the community, but we also need to address the needs of our kids.”

The technology portion of the levy, set at $6.7 million, will bring the total capital projects levy up to $9.9 million — the number residents will vote on at the polls this March.

The capital facilities portion of the levy was originally estimated at $7.6 million. Last week, the School Board reduced this number by more than 50 percent to $3.2 million, deciding to hold some of the renovation costs for a future capital facilities plan.

The final levy was approved at the School Board’s regular meeting on Jan. 10. The money will cover a set number of projects from construction to the modernization and remodeling of existing facilities, as well as technology improvements, over four years.

Deciding which items to keep on the capital facilities levy and which to hold for a future bond project was not an easy decision for the board. The main topic of deliberation was the high school girls softball team’s playfields, which are a potential Title IX violation due to their substandard quality. I

“We have an obligation [to improve the field.] And if we continue delaying this it will send the wrong message,” said Mercer Island High School Athletic Director Craig Olson, who attended last week’s meeting.

The board backed Olson’s concern, yet emphasized that improvements to Homestead should be funded by a separate bond, along with much-needed repairs at MIHS.

“Our consternation was complicated by the fact that certain projects, which we had some angst around, should have been put on a seperate [bond] plan,” Plano said on Jan. 3.

Explaining Plano’s comment, Dodd pointed out that “renovation projects with a life-span of more than 20 years should typically be put into a capital facilities bond because you’re borrowing money over a 25-year period.” Needed improvements with a shorter life expectancy, such as locker room upgrades and paint jobs, were kept on the capital levy list.

Plano reminded those members of the public attending the meeting that he would initiate work on the capital facilities bond immediately. In fact, he added, Homestead Field repair could begin as soon as next year, even if passed in a 2009 bond.

“We’re making progress to identify a problem we know exists,” Plano said. “If an ’08-09 bond passes, we could update the field a year early.”

It was also pointed out that the city may cover Homestead Field improvements under its 2008 parks levy.

Other items pulled from the capital facilities levy include: a North Mercer campus plan, Island Park and West Mercer playfield renovation, a number of high school improvements — including the gym, student store and black box — and a revision of the current West Mercer parking lot.

“Once we opened the door to a [renovation] wish list, we moved to expand this program without people to deal with the ramifications of expansion,” Plano said, pointing out that $400,000 was added to the levy for a capital facilities bond feasibility study.

“We will begin immediately on putting together a bond,” he added. “We’ll start a coalition of stakeholders and work from there.”

The approved $9.9 million capital facilities and technology levy will be voted on in March.

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