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APS ponders bond ask without tax hike

ALPENA — Alpena Public Schools has the ability to pay off its current bond debt before going to voters about another bond proposal, Superintendent John VanWagoner said Wednesday.

VanWagoner told the school board’s Finance Committee that the district can pay off a 25-year bond voters approved in 1996 before asking voters to approve another bond, which the district is considering because of leaking roofs, aging boilers, and other facilities needs.

The 1996 bonds raised $27 million for the district. The district has about $4.5 million left to pay off the bonds, VanWagoner said.

Voters are currently paying 1.8 mills of property tax toward that bond debt, which is scheduled to be paid off in 2021. That’s one of the reasons voters in May rejected the district’s request to sell $63 million in new bonds, which would have required property taxes to rise about 1.9 mills, or $95 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house.

“We actually do have the ability to pay the bond off early,” VanWagoner said. “That would allow us to be able to go for something and have only one bond and not two like we did last time, so that will be much more clear.”

VanWagoner said Wednesday paying off the current bonds should allow the district to tell voters taxes would stay the same if they approved a new bond sale.

Voters do not approve tax rates when they OK the sale of bonds. Tax rates are set based on the taxable values in the district and the annual bond debt.

The full board will talk more about the topic at its Monday meeting.

BUDGET SHORTFALL EXPECTED

Also Wednesday, VanWagoner said the district could have a budget shortfall before the end of the year because of state cuts.

The district will revise its current budget at its December meeting, and VanWagoner said the district is looking at a $250,000 shortfall by year’s end, to be covered by its savings account, but he hopes state cuts get reinstated and put the district’s budget back on track.

“Right now, that’s the reality of where we’re at with our funding for the district,” he said.

“We did run a pretty lean budget, such as building supplies and those things.”

The district lost close to $500,000 in funding from the state because of veteos Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed when she completed the state’s 2020 budget. Whitmer made nearly $1 billion in line-item vetoes.

The district lost money for being an isolated district, which means that there are fewer than six students per square mile. That cost the district $180,000 it had budgeted for.

It also lost money the state pays for students who participate in the Alpena High School Career and Technical Education program, which is $50 for every CTE student the district has.

The district started the year with $6.1 million in savings. The district has not had to withdraw from its savings since 2014.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.