Forum puts bond on spotlight

Coos Bay Schools BEST Bond Committee Chairman James Martin fielded public questions during Tuesday night's League of Women Voters forum.

COOS BAY – The Coos Bay School BEST Bond was up for public scrutiny Tuesday night.

The League of Women Voters hosted a forum with BEST Bond Chairman and school board member James Martin. The bond is appearing on the Coos Bay ballot for the Nov. 7 election, asking for $59.9 million.

If passed, the bond will survive for 25 years before being taken off local property taxes. During that term, it is estimated that there will be a property tax increase of $1.60 per year of each $1,000 assessed value, which is down from the amount estimated in the May ballot.

League of Women Voters President Sue Thornton hoped the event would provide information for the public and answer questions before next month’s election.

“Every forum we present, from candidates or public votes, we always try to provide as much information as we can,” Thornton said. “Had we known ahead of time a group organizing in opposition of the bond, we would have invited a speaker from them as well.”

Thornton referenced the local Republican Party that held a protest against the bond on Saturday. Though event organizers anticipated more protesters Tuesday night, none showed.

Martin fielded questions from a small crowd in the Coos Bay City Council chambers, covering topics from why the bond is necessary to dispelling rumors.

One of the questions asked if bond funds could be used for other things rather than the intended capital projects.

“That is flatly wrong,” Martin said off the bat. “State law covers bond funds. Capital projects are limited to things that last one year or longer, which rules out salary. Bonds would never go to administration or anything else but capital projects. Can we use it for other things? No. It’s illegal.”

Martin explained that the public can ensure proper use of bond funds through yearly state audits and a transparent budget process.

“You can look at the numbers on our website and go back through the last several years because everything we do is public,” he said. “There’s a series of protections in place, but it’s everybody’s job if this passes to be a watchdog.”

Martin was also asked why property owners have to pay for school facilities and whether or not the projects can be paid through marijuana taxes or lottery money.

“Property taxes typically pay for things that make it worthwhile to live in a particular area,” Martin explained. “They pay for police, fire, roads and public schools, things that make a community functional and viable.”

He admitted that no one wants to pay more property taxes, but that for most homeowners their  property values go up if the value of public schools go up.

“As to other revenue sources, the marijuana tax statewide is projected to be $80 or $90 million, which is to be split between all school districts so we will receive only a little, which won’t solve the problem,” he said. “Lottery money goes to Salem’s general fund for state revenue and the state divvies that up. That money does not go toward capital projects.”

During the forum, Martin also answered how buildings factor into quality education by stating that students learn better when the temperature is comfortable, when they aren’t distracted by leaky roofs and have a proper mix of fresh air.

“We know kids learn better when the acoustics are good too,” he said. “When it rains, it can be so loud in the classrooms that you can’t hear anything else.”

Martin told The World that he hopes the forum answered important questions from the community, but that this was not part of the campaign.

“This night is about facts,” he said.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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