School bond

Rocky Heights Elementary School would be replaced with a new, larger school on the same property if a school bond is approved by voters in November.

Two years ago, Hermiston voters turned down a bond for Hermiston School District. The district is back on the ballot this November, with a better deal than it previously offered taxpayers.

The 2017 bond would have added 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to local property taxes, adding to the $4.09 per $1,000 bill taxpayers were already receiving for past bonds.

This time around, the district recently paid off all of its pre-2008 bonds, which property owners can expect to see reflected in their next property tax bill, lowered to $3.65 per $1,000.

The bond that the school district is proposing would keep the new $3.65 rate in place. Instead of raising the tax rate, it would extend the amount of time Hermiston residents will be paying school bond taxes from the current 10-year plan to 25. Rising property values spurred by Hermiston’s rapid growth would also help raise money, as would a $6.6 million grant from the state that will go to another community if voters do not pass a bond this year.

Even though it sounds inviting to be free of all school bond taxes within 10 years, it is unlikely that will happen. It seems far-fetched to imagine with Hermiston’s current growth rate that the voters will truly go another full decade without passing another bond.

If they pass a bond now, current students will benefit. A new elementary school on Theater Lane and a new, larger Rocky Heights Elementary School will help “right-size” the rest of the elementary schools’ populations, providing a safer, less crowded learning experience for students. The district also plans to add a 12-classroom annex to Hermiston High School, purchase property to prepare for future growth and make some adjustments to drop-off and pick-up areas at elementary schools to decrease congestion — all without an increase in the current school bond tax rate.

Barring any billionaires taking a sudden interest in Hermiston, that seems about as good of an offer as Hermiston will get on a project of this scope.

Newcomers and outsiders might look at the proposal and scoff that Hermiston’s oldest school, Rocky Heights, is a mere 57 years old — decades newer than the buildings many Umatilla County residents attended during their own school years. That’s a fair point, to be sure, and it is likely one of the reasons some people will vote no.

However, every community makes choices about where they invest their money in an effort to make their community an attractive place to visit, live and work.

Hermiston has always prided itself on premier educational facilities, and those facilities have proven a strength. They generate economic benefit by drawing flocks of visitors who fill hotels and restaurants during AAU basketball tournaments, district tennis meets and 1A football state championships. And many of those visitors come away with a positive impression of Hermiston, speaking in awed tones about Kennison Field or how nice the schools are.

The bond on the ballot in November gives Hermiston an opportunity to build on that strength and gives students a better learning environment, without raising anyone’s tax bill next year. That seems like a win.

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