COOS BAY — According to unofficial numbers, the Coos Bay BEST Bond was ahead on Tuesday night, but the numbers are close.

At 10 p.m., with all eight precincts reporting, 50.18 percent voted "yes" and 49.82 voted "no" with 8,604 ballots cast.

Because the numbers are so close, voters won't know the final result until Nov. 22 or 27.

"People who do not sign their ballot or we have signature concerns, those are challenge ballots and they have 14 days after the election to solve those issues," said County Clerk Debbie Heller on Wednesday morning. "They have until 5 p.m. on Nov. 21 to resolve those issues."

Big counties, such as Multnomah and Lane, send election officials to the post offices to collect any ballots still in the mail system so they can be sent to Coos County within the next 14 days.

"That happened last night at 8 p.m.," Heller said. "So they will be notifying counties that they have ballots to mail to them. We have 'clean up,' which is my own terminology, to get these ballots in or fixed in the next 14 days and 21 days to certify an election. The earliest I could certify is Nov. 22 and the latest date is Nov. 27. We have holidays there, so it will be done either the 22nd or the 27th depending on how much I have to do."

An automatic recount doesn't happen unless the final result is within one fifth of one percent. Right now, the results are not within that margin.

The Coos Bay BEST Bond Committee spent the evening waiting for the numbers to roll in at 7 Devils Brewery. Even though the preliminary numbers show another close election, they toasted a toddler, Dorian Bonasera, with the optimism that votes would still swing in their favor.

"We toasted Dorian because we hope that she and other children will benefit from these schools being updated," said attendee Ellen Webster. "She has attended a lot of fundraisers and events for two years now and she will hopefully get to walk into a bright, safe, clean and sunshine to school that is updated to today's standards and she will think that her community cares about her."

Former Coos Bay school board member, Sam Aley, said earlier Tuesday night that the preliminary numbers were disappointing when it looked like the bond was going to fail.

"I thought we really listened to the public and came in at a lower bond number," he said. "We also got that matching $4 million from the state, which we only get if the bond passes, and with the positive chatter I've been readingI thought it would pass."

On Tuesday afternoon, 6,994 ballots had been returned, which is 37 percent of the ballots sent out. Because it is a special election, County Clerk Debbie Heller said not as many voters turn in ballots. In May 2016, 55 percent of the ballots came in, but in May earlier this year only 44 percent were turned in.

“We could be close to that at the end of today,” she said. “People could wait to the very last minute to turn theirs in.”

Ron Wiggins from the Coos County Republican Central Committee, which had opposed the bond, said if voters approved the bond then “it is what it is.”

“We opposed this because the community can’t afford this,” he said. “But if it passes, that’s the way it is and if it fails, then that’s what the voters wanted. It failed the last time too and they just always come back with a different thing. This time they came back with $59.9 million and it is like . . . why did they do that? Add one more penny and it’s the big $60 million deal. It’s like they think we’re stupid or something.”

However, voters at the ballot boxes overwhelmingly hoped for a positive outcome for Tuesday’s special election.

“Hoping that it passes because I think anything we can better do for children . . . we should do better,” said Coos Bay voter Joan Lowry. “Children can’t speak for themselves so we need to do this for them.”

However, voter Keith DeMetz voted against it because he worried that taxes were becoming too expensive for the community.

“I voted against it for those on fixed incomes who can’t afford it,” he said.

Ballot measure 6-166 is intended to improve buildings in the Coos Bay School District. Most pressingly, the money would be used to rebuild the Eastside Elementary School and provide the district with a safer location to house the 600 children at Blossom Gulch. Blossom Gulch was built on fill dirt in a tsunami inundation zone and has been sinking for decades, crushing pipes and separating stairs from doorways.

“If this bond doesn’t pass, we go back to the drawing board,” said Coos Bay School District Superintendent Bryan Trendell. “We will have to prioritize and see what our next move will be if we come back to voters in May with something different on the ballot.”

If the bond fails, the children at Blossom Gulch will have to be moved.

In a moment of frustration, Trendell looked back at the two other times the district put the bond out for voter approval.

“The first time it failed in 2007, I understand that one,” he said. “That was a perfect storm of the economy going in the tank and really not a great time to float a bond measure because people were trying to scramble and survive. Now our economy has improved, not to where we’d like it to be, but there’s been good growth in our community.”

When the district put the bond forward in the May election, Trendell felt that the close call then showed that the community was willing to pass it but needed more information first.

“We’re on the cusp of something the community will support,” he said. “Now, what can we put to the community that they will vote yes for? Because those needs that are listed are still there and we don’t have the money in our operating budget to take care of those needs. We could chip away at it over the next 30 years but we’d be throwing money away at old buildings.”

However, if it passes, Trendell said that he and the district would be ecstatic because they’d be able to immediately get to work.

“If it passes, we go into the architectural design stage and what the reconstruction looks like and the timeline for how it all shapes out,” he said. 

He feels as though the BEST Bond Committee worked hard to deliver correct information to the public about the bond this time around and answered questions from the community that hadn’t been answered prior to the May election.

“Either way I just want to thank the people who have worked so hard,” he said. “There’s been a lot of staff, community folks that have worked really hard on this campaign and planning what we’d go out for as far as the bond is concerned. It’s been a great group of people and I hope that those folks, for their sake, that they are rewarded with a positive outcome.”

At the BEST Bond Committee gathering on Tuesday night, attendee Carmen Matthews was still hopeful the final numbers would turn in their favor.

"This is our turn to do what we want to do for our community," he said. "It's as simple as that. I understand people don't want to pay extra taxes, but for a cause you can experience and benefit from this is the best tax money you can spend. Period."

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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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