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McKenzie School District Bond Fails, No Tax Increase for Community Impacted by Wildfire

Andy Nelson

As of Tuesday evening, the McKenzie School District bond measure 20-313 is narrowly failing by 52% of voters. This comes after the school board asked people to vote “No” as community members work to recover from the Holiday Farm Fire.

According to the district, the proposal for the bond measure was created after a Long Range Facilities Planning Committee—composed of staff, parents, and community members—met from Sept. 2019-May 2020 to review and assess the district’s facilities. The group drafted a Facilities Assessment Report produced by Soderstrom Architects, with input from structural and mechanical engineers.

Despite the building undergoing additions in 1955, 1959, 1960 and 1966, the elementary school is 70 years old. 

The report showed the McKenzie Elementary School does not meet earthquake safety standards, and identified issues in other buildings, such as aging facilities and deferred maintenance projects, a “deteriorating roof; HVAC, plumbing and mechanical systems that are beyond their life expectancy; and hazardous materials including asbestos tile flooring, lead, mold, radon gas and PCBs.”

The McKenzie School District’s proposed bond measure would have also upgraded security cameras, the intercom system, and the fire alarm system. This includes adding access control gates to the campus entry.

And the district said its regular maintenance budget would not be able to cover the proposed projects without the bond.

“The district spends an average of $45,000 per year on repairs and maintenance of its facilities,” stated the press release. “The estimated cost of repairing and renovating the McKenzie Elementary School—not including a seismic upgrade or identified upgrades to other buildings—would be $6.3 million.”

But with many families displaced by the wildfire, McKenzie Superintendent Lane Tompkins said voting the bond down was the right thing to do to support community members.

“Losing isn’t fun,” said Tompkins. “But you know, when you know it’s for the overall good of the community, I think that’s okay. You can kind of take it. I know the community members appreciate not having to stare down a tax increase while they're in the middle of trying to figure out how to rebuild and get back to their homes.”

The $15,210,000 bond would have been repaid over 21 years.

Owners would have paid approximately $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value (about $412 per year for a home assessed at the median assessed value in the McKenzie area of $210,174).

But due to large amounts of property loss, the projected rate would have increased to roughly $2.40-2.70 per $1,000 of assessed property.

The district also received a $4 million matching grant from the Oregon School Capital Improvement (OSCIM) program to help pay for the bond projects. That would have been a total of $19 million to spend on facilities upgrades. But since OSCIM grants are awarded for a specific election, the district must receive voter approval in the May election if they want to use those funds.

The McKenzie School district plans to reassess their needs and put another bond measure on the May ballot.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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