Benson column: Short and long-term thinking
By Jamie Benson, School District Superintendent
The speed of trust is often influenced by transparency and promises kept. With that in mind, I will share some short and long-term strategies employed by our Board of Education in their commitment to be good stewards of taxpayer money.
Last April residents of the River Falls school community went to the polls and supported two referendum questions. Prior to the April vote our district explained the total annual cost of both referendum questions would be $50 per $100,000 home. By now, property owners can confirm that tax impact statement as being accurate.
To be clear, the referendum tax impact was mitigated by the fact that some existing debt was retired. In other words, the School Board thought short-term and long-term in aligning our facility needs with tax implications. They planned ahead so as some debt fell off the tax rolls it effectively softened the new $48 million of referendum debt.
But now what? What will the future hold? What is the long-term financial implication of this recent referendum? Here's the teaser: we are saving taxpayers $8.5 million.
Our district has a very high "AA" bond rating from Standard and Poor's due in large part to the district's sound fiscal planning in areas such as debt retirement; maintaining a responsible fund balance; establishing a sinking fund for future construction needs; and appropriate overall fiscal policies and procedures. Give credit where credit is due—some of these financial advantages were created by decisions of current board members, but also some decisions were made by previous board members as well.
This excellent "AA" rating provided for a competitive bid climate and low interest on our referendum bond loan process. Lower interest rates allowed the board to front load more principle payments which in turn, structured remaining debt payments to significantly decrease in nine years. This process saved taxpayers over $8.5 million in interest payments.
The Board of Education is committed to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars by making both short and long-term financial decisions. In this case, short-term referendum-related decisions have been merged with long-term thinking about the district's financial future.
In nine years, if bond loan rates were to stay the same as today, there will be a $40 million tax-neutral window for future board and community members to determine if another referendum is needed or not. Either way, the drop in debt load will be an option for both short and long-term thinking.
Since April we have been busy with referendum construction design detail plans, prepping bid packages for construction work, finalizing our bond issuance to fund the projects and making logistical plans to break ground in June. We will continue to update you as construction moves forward.
Thank you for your ongoing support of our schools and for your investment in our children's future. Through your investment, it is quite obvious that you too have a clear vision for both short, and long-term thinking.