Bainbridge school officials are hoping taxpayers will give them another bite at the apple.
Next week, voters will cast ballots on two local property tax increases.
Both — a $15 million capital levy for the Bainbridge Island School District, and a permanent tax levy for Bainbridge Island Fire Department EMS (emergency medical services) — carry the moniker of Proposition 1.
Prop. 1 for schools, however, is a six-year property tax increase that officials say will help bridge a budget gap for projects that were part of a bond measure in 2016.
Bainbridge voters approved an $81.2 million bond measure three years ago that paid for a new Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary on the island’s south end, as well as for a replacement of the 100 Building at Bainbridge High School and other repair and renovation projects at district schools and facilities.
District officials have long known, however, that the bond approved by islanders wouldn’t be enough to finish the projects that were promised.
Three big reasons are to blame, officials said.
The largest is the construction boom that has echoed through the Seattle region. Officials say there’s been an “unprecedented escalation” in construction in the region, which has prompted increased costs for labor and materials. Levy supporters point to a 2018 news report in the Seattle Journal of Commerce, which noted that Seattle was the seventh most expensive place to build in the world.
District officials also note that state funding that had been expected to help pay for school projects on Bainbridge Island hasn’t materialized. The district had hoped to get a class size reduction grant of $1.2 million, but didn’t, and the state match for the BHS project was reduced to $1.75 million from an October 2015 estimate of $2.6 million.
New building codes at the state and local level are also to blame for the escalation in costs, as well as an increase in the sales tax in Kitsap County.
The $15 million levy is expected to bridge the budget shortfall, which officials say will help the district finish the commitments it made in the 2016 bond election.
If approved by voters during the Special Election Feb. 12, the school district’s Prop. 1 levy will add an additional 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to the tax bills of Bainbridge property owners in 2020.
That’s approximately $198 per year for six years, officials note, for the average home on Bainbridge (assessed at $660,520).
Prop. 1 needs a simple majority to pass.
School district officials said the estimate for the capital projects shortfall stands at $10.2 million, and the $15 million levy will also help pay for district-wide security upgrades and essential renovations through 2025, including plumbing, roof and HVAC repairs.
Improvement plans for new schools in the district have changed since the 2016 bond measure. While construction for the new Blakely Elementary kicked off last fall — and the school is expected to be open this fall — the design for a new 100 Building at BHS has seen major modifications.
The current plan includes moving the commons from its current spot at the lower end of the 200 Building at BHS to the new 100 Building. Officials said the current commons will be rebuilt into an auditorium with seating for 350 to 400 people.
Moving the commons, officials said, will make the commons the “heart” of the BHS campus and will free it up for use during the day for classroom support. School officials note the new location of the commons will allow for better supervision of the space, as sight lines and visibility will be improved.
Supporters of the levy said the island has historically supported investments in local schools, and the capital measure will provide “safe, educationally stimulating and structurally sound schools.”
District officials said a public opinion survey conducted earlier by CFM Communications showed strong support for the levy, with seven out of 10 in favor of the ballot measure.