Time isn’t right yet for Measure B

In 2010, we applauded voters in Atascadero for passing Measure I, a $117 million school bond to improve facilities desperately in need of major rehabbing. Just four years later, the school district is returning to voters with Measure B, which asks Atascadero residents to double the amount they’re willing to pay, from $60 to a maximum of $120 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

To be clear, the district is not asking to borrow more money. The district does, however, want to increase the amount it can collect in a given year, in order to have enough money flowing in so it can complete all improvements on schedule.

Keep in mind: If this new measure fails, the district will still be authorized to collect revenue at the rate approved in 2010.

While we continue to strongly support the district’s efforts to upgrade its aging schools — and we believe it has done an outstanding job on the first round of improvements — we believe the latest request is asking a lot of taxpayers.

When voters approved Measure I, they did so under the belief that their maximum exposure would be $60 per $100,000 assessed value. Now, the district is asking to “shift the payments forward,” thereby reducing the amount of time it will take to repay the debt.

That’s a valid argument, but we believe it’s important to keep the annual tax burden as low as possible — especially for young people buying in today’s market. They face higher housing costs, higher mortgages and, because the assessed values of their homes are generally higher, their tax bills are often much more burdensome than those of longtime homeowners.

It’s also important to remember that this request is not occurring in a vacuum. Atascadero taxpayers also are being asked to approve a sales tax increase and a bond measure for Cuesta College — two measures we believe are important to maintaining decent public facilities for Atascadero residents and their children.

We’re concerned, too, that supporters of the measure have failed to clearly explain why this needs to go back to the voters so soon. While they’ve attempted to minimize the effect the change would have on taxpayers’ pocketbooks, they’ve been less than transparent in explaining why the calculations made just four years ago have failed to hold up.

For example, a recent mailer states that the reauthorization is necessary because of an “unexpected and drastic change in property values.” That’s puzzling. The original bond measure was passed during one of the worst recessions in state history, and the continued sluggishness of the economy should not have come as a surprise.

Besides, according to data on the county website, values are steadily rising in the Atascadero school district. The total net assessed value for 2014-15 was $4.2 billion, compared to $3.8 billion in 2011-12.

Yet the district is warning that the money coming in is inadequate and, without passage of Measure B, additional improvements may have to be put off for as long as 15 years. In the meantime, construction costs will escalate.

This worst-case scenario seems somewhat premature; with assessed values continuing to rise, the district’s financial situation should steadily improve. If not, nothing would preclude the district from returning to voters in two years or four years with another reauthorization request.

That would give supporters the opportunity to make a strong case for why the higher annual payments are necessary — something they failed to offer this time around.

Again, we strongly support the capital improvements the Atascadero school district has accomplished so far, but we believe it rushed to put another measure on the ballot before fully considering alternatives or the effects the measure would have on taxpayers.

The Tribune recommends a “no” vote on Measure B-14.