Bonner County Rejects Levy Big Budget Cuts Loom, Officials Say, After $5.6 Million Levy Defeated
Voters here turned down a $5.6 million school district levy Tuesday - a move district officials say will force serious budget cuts next year.
“It means we won’t have buses, so we will probably reduce bus routes. It means roofs will continue to leak, and we will pay more to fix the damage,” said trustee Willard Osmunson.
“I see this as a big blow to the kids and education.”
Residents rejected both parts of the two-year levy.
The first $1 million was to help fund construction of a new elementary school. The second portion, $4.6 million, would have paid for 10 new buses, classroom supplies, and textbooks and repairs to dilapidated schools district-wide.
With 17 of 18 precincts reporting, the Kootenai Elementary School levy was losing by less than 600 votes, 2,612 to 2,019; while the district-wide levy was failing by about 350 votes, 2,386 to 2,035.
“We can’t take care of all the needs with the budget we have,” said Superintendent Max Harrell. “The levy wasn’t going to solve all our problems, but it certainly would have eased our situation.”
The levy needed a simple majority of “yes” votes to pass.
The district must now look at a long list of programs not mandated by the state for cutbacks, Harrell said. Those cuts could include dropping kindergarten classes and requiring students to pay to participate in sports programs.
The school board has predicted a shortfall of nearly a million dollars in school funding next year.
“It’s going to be a very tough job to balance the budget, but we are going to try and do it with program cuts,” Harrell said. “The board has decided that the first priority is to save jobs. We won’t be handing out pink slips.”
Tuesday’s turnout was heavier than expected. Voters made their way to the polls through a daylong driving rain and had strong opinions about the proposed levy.
“I’ll vote for just about anything that will support the schools,” said Caleb Carlson after casting his ballot. “I think the most important thing we can do as a community is support and promote education.”
But many senior citizens were worried the levy would cut too deep into their fixed incomes, effectively taxing them out of their homes.
“It’s too much money. Senior citizens cannot afford any more taxes, and there are people with children who can’t afford it either,” said Kamma Kristensen. “We have been bled by taxes too much already.”
Steve Zacharias weighed a lot of factors before voting “no.”
“The economy isn’t doing too good here right now and we’ve had a string of levies,” Zacharias said, refering to a recent $4 million library levy that failed and an upcoming $3.9 million levy for new county jail.
School district business manager Steve Battenschlag was disappointed with the results, and said the message voters sent was clear.
“What I hear them saying is they want to live with bad roads, an inadequate library and poor educational facilities because they aren’t willing to pay for them.”