The Haines Borough Assembly will consider asking voters to approve a $5 million bond for districtwide school improvements.
The borough’s hopes for approval hinge on the package of projects qualifying for reimbursement through a state program that covers up to 70 percent of costs.
The bond would finance six projects: mechanical upgrades to the vocational education building ($1.6 million), Mosquito Lake School air handling unit replacement ($346,500), high school air handling unit replacement ($362,300), roof repairs ($145,500), high school locker room ($850,500) and pool locker room replacement ($1.6 million).
The assembly introduced an ordinance Tuesday which, if passed, would put the measure on the October municipal ballot.
Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said the borough is applying to the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) to qualify for the School Debt Reimbursement Program, which would pay for 60 or 70 percent of the debt payments if the application is approved.
Getting the application approved and including information about the reimbursement on the ballot in October will be key, Stuart said, so voters understand they aren’t on the hook for the entire $5 million.
“If it doesn’t say that in the ballot language, then I’m worried that it won’t pass where it otherwise would have,” she said.
Stuart said borough and school staff, including public facilities director Carlos Jimenez, manager Mark Earnest, superintendent Michael Byer and Mayor Stephanie Scott, have been discussing how to fund the projects for several months during school facilities meetings.
“There’s no way to pay for all this (out-of-pocket). If we get a legislative grant, great, but when you take all these things together, they’re more than what we can fund locally,” Stuart said.
Earnest said it’s likely the only realistic way of getting these projects completed. The pool locker room replacement, for instance, was recently submitted for funding to both the Alaska Legislature and DEED grant program, but denied.
“I think this is our chance to get the projects funded. This is the path that will result in these projects moving forward,” he said.
Mayor Stephanie Scott said she believes voters will approve the bond with the reimbursement. “I think it’s possible they will go for it recognizing the investment in the buildings and the necessity to keep them in good shape. I don’t think anybody goes, ‘Hooray, we get to pay more,’ but I think it’s something that has to be done. You don’t just let things fall to wreck and ruin. I think it’s the responsible thing to do,” she said.
Assuming a 20-year repayment period and 3.9 percent interest, the annual payments would be about $364,000.
If 60 percent of the debt is covered, the payment drops to about $145,000, which would be covered by a .5 mil increase. If 70 percent is covered, it drops to $109,000, which can be covered with a .38 mil increase.
The ordinance, which will decide whether the matter will be put to the voters, is scheduled for its first public hearing July 23.