UPDATED: APS taxpayers, please do your homework

CORRECTION: This editorial has been updated, based on new information provided Nov. 29 by Alpena Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner, to more accurately reflect the total tax burden property owners would have for APS debt if a new millage request goes forward.

In Tuesday’s edition of The News, we reported that Alpena Public Schools has taken the first step toward asking voters to approve the sale of up to $66 million in bonds to fund renovations and upgrades to school buildings throughout the district.

Property owners in the district would repay those bonds over 25 years through an up-to-2-mill tax that would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $100 a year.

The decision is not final. Board members have until February to decide whether or not to put the proposal on the May ballot and could change course.

Property owners already are paying 1.8 mills — or about $90 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house — to repay bonds sold in the 1990s to build Thunder Bay Junior High School and Lincoln Elementary School. Those bonds will be paid off — and that tax will expire — in 2021.

Because the district plans to sell the bonds in two sets — $49 million in 2019, then $17 million in 2022 — the tax burden would not come all at once. In the first year, 2.5 mills — $125 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house — would be levied. The average over the 25 years would be 3.04 mills, or $152 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house.

That’s a 69-percent increase in property tax burden going toward APS debt.

But, as Julie Goldberg reported in today’s edition, APS Superintendent John VanWagoner says the school buildings are in such disrepair that the district can’t wait for the current tax to expire. Roofs need replacing and foundations are in trouble.

We do not doubt VanWagoner’s assessment. He has led a deliberate and transparent planning process leading up to this week’s decision and we have no reason to doubt his assertion that the needs are pressing.

And one thing he said is irrefutable: Costs for everything from construction labor to supplies will only climb over the next three years. If the district waits for the current tax to expire, it might need to ask voters for more than $66 million, meaning higher taxes.

Nonethless, $152 a year is not a small sum for some of our residents, and we encourage taxpayers to do their homework on this proposal. Read the list of items the district says it needs (available here: https://tinyurl.com/y92cbw3m). Call your elected school board members and ask questions. Maybe even ask to visit a school and see the needs for yourself.

The proposal would tax our residents for a quarter-century, but also would affect future generations of APS students for the next several decades.

It is not a decision to be made lightly.

And, once you have made your decision, we encourage you to make your voice known to board members between now and February. Don’t wait until it’s already on the ballot.