Sequim City Council spurns chance to endorse school bond issue

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– The City Council has refused to offer an official endorsement of the Sequim School District’s $154 million construction bond request, as was requested by backers of the April 22 ballot measure.

The council did, however, approve an unofficial statement in “general support” of the district’s request, as most council members expressed personal support for the measure.

“It’s up to the voters of the school district to make this decision, not this council,” Councilman Erik Erichsen said.

Erichsen, along with council members Ted Miller, Dennis Smith and Genaveve Starr, voted not to issue the official resolution in support of the measure at Monday night’s council session.

Mayor Candace Pratt, Councilman Ken Hays and Councilwoman Laura Dubois voted to issue the endorsement.

“We’re partners with the school district, and I think we owe them this,” Pratt said.

The council later voted 6-1, with Erichsen again in dissent, to issue a statement saying the “city council offers general support to the Sequim School District in seeking voter approval to fund the acknowledged need for districtwide improvements to its education facilities.”

The district is asking for the bond to fund construction of a new elementary school, an extensive remodel and renovation of the high school and two existing elementary schools, and build a new athletic complex.

If approved, the bonds would add approximately $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax bills of property owners in the district, which has a total assessed property value of $3.7 billion.

The bond would add $425 to the annual property tax bill of the owner of a $250,000 home.

Ballots are set to be mailed to district voters April 2.

A number of citizens asked the council to endorse the bond prior to the vote Monday night.

“I want to express our general support of a good school system,” said Richard Newman, chief human resources officer for Olympic Medical Center.

Schools, he said, are one of the primary concerns of potential health care workers when they apply for jobs at the Port Angeles-based hospital

School Board President John Bridge noted that the district’s list of facility needs is similar to one drawn up by a citizen committee in 2008.

“Unfortunately, nothing got done,” Bridge said. “Now, we have buildings that are older than the City Hall that’s set to be demolished.”

Michael McAleer, a local real estate agent, said the school’s tax levy rate if the construction bond is approved would be $3.85 per $1,000 assessed value, below the state average levy of $4.44.

Others, though, urged the council not to weigh in on the school district’s funding request.

“The council as a body should represent interests of all and should not adopt a resolution in support of, nor against, the proposition but let the electoral process run its course,” Sequim resident Jeff Killian said.

Starr said she had heard similar sentiment from citizens expressing a concern that an endorsement from the council “puts pressure on them.”

Miller agreed.

“I don’t feel the City Council as a body has a right to substitute the will of the voters,” Miller said. “This is a school district issue.”

“We are not taking anyone’s vote away from them,” Pratt responded. “We’ve done this before.”

In February 2013, the council unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the school district’s four-year, $5.8 million-a-year operations levy and one-year, $1.6 million bus replacement levy.

Erichsen said this time around, he could not agree to a council position on the matter.

“We are giving pressure and influence to the voters that we, as a council, as a governing body, accept it, think it’s a good idea,” Erichsen said.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 25. 2014 6:03PM
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