If you live east of Interstate 5, there’s a good chance you have something to vote on in the April 26 special election. A fire district and two school districts are asking voters to support their ballot measures.
The News Tribune editorial board supports all three.
▪ Bethel School District bond measure: This is the same proposition that failed in February, with one difference: The tax rate that funds it has gone down from 74 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to 65 cents due to a rise in property values districtwide.
That difference – plus more time to make the case to voters – could help win enough votes to put the $236.7 million bond proposal over the top. It lost by a slim margin Feb. 9 with 57.4 percent in favor, just shy of the 60 percent supermajority it needs. If it passes, it would mean an annual tax increase of $139 for the owner of a home assessed at $214,000, the average valuation in the district. Passage would qualify the district to receive nearly $82 million in state construction assistance.
The district and its students badly need this bond measure. Many schools are old, in need of repairs and upgrades, and severely overcrowded. And that’s before an estimated 3,000 more students arrive in the next 10 years.
Students at Bethel High School are so packed in that it’s physically difficult to move between classes. Many students have to eat lunch sitting on the floor.
The bond measure would solve that problem by building new classroom wings while leaving those parts of the school that are in good shape. Five other schools would either be replaced or renovated, and a new elementary would be built. Land supporting future projects would be bought.
The most controversial part of the proposal is a $29 million aquatics center. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for voters. The area served by Bethel has no public pool; the center would serve both the public and student athletes, who now must travel outside the district to train.
The center is a sound investment for the district and the community because it would bring in state money to help with construction, which might not be the case were this just a public recreation facility. And a place where kids could learn to swim would be a valuable community asset.
▪ Eatonville School District bond measure: This Mount Rainier foothills district is asking voters to approve a $19.5 million proposal that would make upgrades to technology, security systems and athletic facilities. The owner of an average $230,000 home would see an annual tax increase of $285.
The district’s 1937-vintage stadium grandstand would be replaced, and new, safer turf would cover the football field, which can become a boggy mess in wet weather.
The district has shown itself to be a good steward of bond money: The 2006 bond, which remodeled school buildings, came in on time and under budget. It was refinanced four times, saving $6 million.
▪ East Pierce Fire & Rescue levy lid lift: The fire district – whose service area includes Bonney Lake, Sumner, Edgewood, South Prairie and Milton – is seeking a modest lid lift of its emergency medical services levy. This isn’t a new tax; it simply allows the district to maintain the voter-approved rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It would cost the owner of a $350,000 home about $21 more a year.
Approval would allow the district to add paramedics to address the needs of a growing population, cover the rising cost of medical supplies and continue providing East Pierce Medic transport with no out-of-pocket costs to district residents.
With EMS calls increasing 12 percent in just the past five years, the district needs voter support for this vital funding.