Bonneville to float a $42.7 million bond issue

IDAHO FALLS — The Bonneville School District will put a $42.7 million bond issue on the August ballot.

Trustees unanimously approved the measure during a special board meeting Wednesday at Thunder Ridge High School. The measure includes funding for an $18.7 million elementary school and just under $24 million in upgrades to both Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools.

A local opposition group, D93 Citizens, has called the proposed upgrades “extravagant” and “outrageous.”

“D93 Citizens has a number of questions about this ill-conceived bond that will add a new tax of almost $90 a year to the annual property tax bill for the average homeowner, and far more for others, including businesses and farmers,” the group’s spokeswoman, Halli Stone, wrote in a news release Tuesday.

The elementary school would be equipped to absorb some 500 additional students and include space for special needs students from both Mountain Valley and Discovery elementary schools. The high school additions would include eight new science classrooms at both Bonneville and Hillcrest. Click here to view a summary of costs and projects tied to the measure.

Much of the school board’s two-hour discussion about the measure revolved around its impact on taxpayers. Earlier proposal estimates came in at just under $40 million. However, Bonneville maintenance and operations director John Pymm told trustees earlier this month that a rise in construction costs and planned renovations around Bonneville High’s subterranean gymnasium would likely drive up the price tag by between $2 million and $5 million.

Pymm, who called earlier estimates for the projects “optimistic,” told trustees Wednesday that he spent the last two weeks working with architects to shave unneeded expenses out of the designs in order to keep costs down.

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Despite the over $3 million increase from the previous measure, district administrators say growth in property valuations and new construction will cover the debt service tied to the measure without raising the district’s levy rate.

Bonneville is one of the fastest growing districts in the state, and securing local revenue to fund structural upgrades has not been easy. Due largely to its rural and agricultural tax base, the district generates less local revenue than other districts its size. As a result, Bonneville patrons pay one of the highest levy rates in Idaho.

A year ago, Bonneville patrons approved a $35.3 million bond issue for a new middle school. Three months later, the district’s new $63.5 million Thunder Ridge High School opened its doors.

In November, Woolstenhulme stressed his commitment not to raise the district’s levy rate, despite continued population growth. The first-year superintendent pointed to an increase in local revenue of almost $4 million since 2014 — coming from the district’s still-developing tax base.

“That’s going to help us a lot,” Woolstenhulme said.

The election will be held on Aug. 27. Idaho requires a two-thirds majority of voter support for a bond issue to pass.

Click here to view the bond resolution.

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