Funding for schools vs. water line extension

Published 4:45 pm Friday, March 4, 2011

To the Editor:

I’m convinced that action by the Polk County Board of Commissioners at the 2/21/11 meeting may prove to be one of the most significant decisions during the term of the current board.

I, along with vice chair McDermott and commissioner Walker (commissioners Pack and Owens voted against the motion) instructed the Polk Board of Education to move forward with the state mandated upgrades to the Polk Central School well system.

For me personally, this was a reversal of my desire for Polk County to continue the extension of a 12” main truck water line north on Hwy. 9 from near the Sandy Plains/Peniel crossroads to Mill Spring as soon as financially feasible.

This is still a major goal for me; however, I had to realize that at the present time having the taxpayers paying 100% of main truck water line extensions is more of a want rather than a need.

Several weeks ago Superintendent Miller made the county commissioners aware of the state mandated well system upgrades.

At the time it seemed to make good sense to move forward and at least extend the main truck water line to Polk Central.  Providing public water to the school would eliminate the approximately $40,000 well system upgrade costs however, the county would have to spend approximately $650,000 from fund reserves to extend this water line.

Superintendent Miller’s report caused me to confront the reality of the deep budget cuts for public schools coming from the State along with shifting to counties budget items that the state has previously paid for (such as school buses).

With the only request for public water service along the new proposed extension coming from Polk Central School, I realized that my want had to be postponed.

During this prolonged economic downturn, the much greater need is for the county to maintain a healthy fund balance so that we are in a strong position to take on the financial burdens being shifted from the state to Polk County without having to impose a property tax increase.

I strongly agree with the unanimous vote by the Polk Board of Education on 2/14/11 which declared that they would rather the county commissioners focus local taxpayer funds on school teachers/support personnel and school programs rather than extending public water to Polk Central.

The current 2010-11 county funding to our public schools is $4,638,054, and this does not include payments on loans for schools.

I know that there will be approximately $300,000 added to this budget number in the 2011-12 fiscal year starting July 1.

Because of almost certain additional state budget cuts, the Board of commissioners may face another significant county funding increase to our school budget in the 2012-13 fiscal year in order to maintain the high quality of our local public schools.  Again, our goal is to do this without a tax increase.

Until the economy improves, a main trunk water line extension on Hwy. 9 will depend on whether a new business should decide to locate along this section and create enough jobs that the county could possibly receive matching grant money as happened recently with the proposed new restaurant on Hwy. 9.

I am convinced that the greatest need currently is not main trunk water line extensions in Polk County, but keeping our exceptional public schools well-funded, and the county’s fund balance healthy so we can weather these tough economic times.

–– Ray Gasperson