I generally subscribe to Barbara Zirvica’s tight-fisted prudence. I, too, pride myself on fiscal integrity. For the record, I, like Barbara, disagreed with extending the Mello Roos tax, the Antioch sales tax, and the recent water tax in its convoluted packaging.
On her recent column, though, regarding Measure J (renovation of the going on 60-year Antioch High School, the only school in Contra Costa of that era that has not been restored), Barbara simply barked up the wrong tree as a watchdog.
Even though AHS is sandwiched by stunning Heritage High, college-campus looking Deer Valley, and Pittsburg High, which had a gorgeous makeover keeping its old bone structure, I can respectfully differ with Barbara’s opinion that it’s OK for our downtown school to stand out like a sore thumb.
Opinion and facts are two things, though. I am not here to argue the ballot merits, as the voters will determine whether our kids deserve second-rate perimeter security; cracking walls and sidewalks; dark classrooms, outmoded heating, air and technology; an unusable pool and track; and a cafeteria that can’t fit them all in rainy weather. It is the citizens who will decide what an equitable facility would or would not do for downtown morale and property value.
Being, though, that I apparently surprise Barbara in living one block over in the non-Mello Roos area, and would, in fact, pay the tax should it pass, I am compelled, as a private citizen, to fact check.
As a soon-to-be 66-year-old who will start collecting social security June 13, I, too, would love, both personally and philosophically, to see seniors exempted for the $4.52 per $100,000 assessed value. Even though it amounts to a tenth or twentieth of what Mello Roos owners pay, seniors have truly done so much for our community and deserve a break.
Unfortunately, under the law of construction bonds, there is so no such possible exemption. It is simply legally verboten. There seems, then, to be some confusion about the provisions of bonds and parcel taxes, where exemptions can and cannot be allowed.
As to the argument that Antioch has properties up the kazoo, I don’t get it. Firstly, precisely because we have received hardship monies to build, the sobering reality is that any properties we sold would be monies given back the state. Secondly, paint this a favorable climate for construction, a dreadful time to sell. Thirdly, even if we were hypothetically able to sell off everything we had, hold nothing for future growth, and be allowed to keep the money, it would be at best a few million rendered, hardly a dime on the dollar of what 21st century modernization will cost.
Fact is, AUSD has been cut $74 million in state funding over the last four years. Due to the bloodletting, like other districts, we have been given a state exemption on putting away 3 percent for deferred maintenance and we have stopped putting into long-term retirement liability fund. Plain and simple, there is no golden goose to raid for this remodernization.
Is it true, as has been stated, that we are counting on matching money back from the state? Hoping, of course, but not counting, on it. It would be gravy and no, we never bet the ranch on hypotheticals.
As to the argument that we stopped the last bond dead in its tracks, leaving some $21 million unbonded, agreed. Gosh, it feels odd, though, to be criticized for not taking everything we could have grabbed. Shouldn’t public entities be applauded for disciplined frugality and turning back money? We were, in deed, the good stewards we promised to be.
Fact is, we completed most all our list, getting very favorable results from the competitive construction climate. On top of that, we received some $16 million back in saved interest from the Quality Construction Act. Most of our bonding came in at an incredibly low 2-percent interest rate. Credit the penny-pinching Scottishness of Tim Forrester, executive director of operations, for putting this together.
The loan formulas changed on us, and for the small scope of unfinished projects left, we would have had to pay $80 to $90 million in interest on $20 million bonding. We wisely decided not to.
Unlike my friend Barbara, I was not surprised that the City Council unanimously supported the bond. They, like I, expect that with a mandated buildout checklist, a citizens’ oversight committee, a vigilant administrative team and a fiscally sound board that has put away $27 million in ending fund balance despite massive state cuts, we would see the same positive results as Measure C should Measure J Pass. It’s all up to the voters.
Trustee, Antioch Unified School District