Imbler bond levy passes in landslide

By Dick Mason, The Observer September 23, 2010 07:21 am
No calls for a recount will be heard as news of this election sweeps across Northeast Oregon.

In a landslide, Imbler School District voters approved a $4 million bond levy for a new elementary school Tuesday, 596 to 193, a 75.4 to 24.4 percent margin. Voter turnout in the mail election was 77.5 percent, easily topping the 50.1 percent minimum needed in Oregon for passage of tax measure elections in March and September.

The bond levy’s margin of victory is staggering from any perspective.

“I’ve been involved in education for 35 years and I’ve never seen a school bond levy with this big a margin of victory,’’ said Gerald Hopkins of Summerville.

Hopkins, a retired educator, is a member of the 40-member Friends of Imbler Schools bond campaign committee, one headed by his brother, Doran, of Summerville.

“Doran did a fabulous job,’’ said Imbler School District Superintendent Doug Hislop.

The Friends of Imbler Schools leader said voter support for the levy is a tribute to how deeply the community cares about its school system.

“It is the community understanding that it needed a new school. Even in these tough economic times it will support a tax measure for a local cause if it is needed,’’ Doran Hopkins said.

Members of Friends of Imbler Schools tried to visit residents in virtually every home in the Imbler School District. Sometimes they visited more than once.

The $4 million bond levy will pay for the construction of a 27,000-square-foot elementary school. The building will replace Imbler’s three aging elementary structures:

• the main elementary building, constructed in 1912;

• the east building, constructed in 1954; and

• Wade Hall, Imbler Elementary’s gym, built in 1929.

The 20-year bond voters approved will have a tax rate of $2.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The owner of a $100,000 home will annually pay $235 in property taxes for the bond for two decades.

The rate will be about half of what it otherwise would have been because the school district will receive a grant from the federal Qualified School Construction Bond program. The grant will pay all of the bond’s interest. The grant will save Imbler taxpayers $4 million in interest payments over 20 years.

The Imbler School District will not have to pay any of the money the Qualified School Construction Bond program provides for interest payments back to the federal government.

The Imbler School Board will meet in about 10 days for a work session to discuss building plans for the school. The wait is necessary since appeals of a successful bond levy election can be filed in the 10 days following it.

Throughout the successful bond campaign, supporters focused on telling voters of the need for a new school because of the poor condition of Imbler’s elementary buildings. This was a persuasive message.

“Nobody wants to put students in a dangerous situation,’’ Hislop said.

Another point levy supporters highlighted is that a $775,000 bond for the construction of Imbler High School’s vocational agriculture building was retired a year ago. Taxpayers spent an average of $1.18 a year per $1,000 of assessed property value for the bond for about 15 years. This means that approval of the $4 million bond, which has a $2.35 rate, means property owners will be paying an average of $1.17 per $1,000 of assessed property value more in school district property taxes than they were paying before the bond for the vocational agriculture building was retired.

Hislop hopes that the $4 million that will be spent building the school will help as many local tradesmen as possible. He also hopes it benefits the many businesses that support the Imbler School District, including those that donate money for scholarships, purchase yearbook ads and more.

Hislop, speaking Tuesday night in the hallway outside the Union County Clerk’s office, said he was moved by the response of Imbler School District voters.

“It is what makes you feel good about working out there,’’ said Hislop, a La Grande resident.

The new school will be situated between where the vocational agriculture building and the current main elementary building are.