McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

October 8, 2011

In our view: Check yes 3 times on Tuesday's ballot

Staff report

McALESTER — Tuesday’s McAlester election is all about money.

There are three questions on the two ballots — for those living both in McAlester and the McAlester School District. The school ballot asks voters to approve a property tax to fund improvements in transportation ($500,000) and school infrastructure ($11,825,000). The city ballot asks voters to approve use of a sales tax to refinance $6 million in city bonds.

We endorse all three measures.

The city ballot question is an easy choice. It will save the city money by allowing existing bonds to be refinanced at lower rates. It will not extend an existing sales tax, or impose a new one. In addition, the refinancing will replace the current loan’s structure, which imposes a $2 million balloon payment in three years. That payment is one the city isn’t so sure it can make.

The school bond questions are more difficult to decide, chiefly because of the amount of new tax money involved: $12,325,000 combined. It’s a lot of money, and it will come from the pockets of property owners in the school district — the boundaries of which do not necessarily coincide with the city’s, meaning some city voters will not be able to vote the school bond ballot.

The impact of the measures on the average property owner has been estimated to be about $50 per year. For some, the tax increase will be higher; for some, it will be lower; for others — those living outside the school district — it will be $0.

Likewise, some will see no direct return on their tax “investment.” They have no children or grandchildren attending McAlester schools; they do not use school district facilities. And some of these same taxpayers will feel the pinch of a $50-per-year tax increase the most — retirees on truly fixed incomes who are already forced to make difficult, real-life choices each day about how their limited incomes are spent.

Others will see the benefits more quickly: new school building roofs, buses, classrooms and technology. Students will no longer have to dodge ceiling leaks while taking tests; the district will be able to comply with laws governing security on school buses.

A similar McAlester school bond issue has already been voted down once. The school district’s first proposal was much more ambitious, to the tune of about a 30-percent tax hike.

Changes were made and Tuesday’s proposal is a tax hike scaled back to a more palatable 13 percent.

We feel that’s both responsible and responsive.

Ultimately, the school bond measures aren’t questions of who most benefits or loses the most. It’s about our community — McAlester — and its health and growth.

We believe the school bonds will promote McAlester at the least possible expense.