For Our: Children - Employers - Businesses - Community

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We are poised on the edge – the edge of a promising future, or the edge of decline. Voters in District 777 will decide Aug. 14 what their vision of the future is for our community.

Those who support a vibrant, thriving community dedicated to the future of its youth, the health of its businesses, meeting the employment needs of its industries, and the future and quality of health care we receive, will vote “Yes” next Tuesday for the school’s $26.3 million building bond levy. Those whose self-interest comes first will vote no.

It is a large sum - $26.3 million. We have a figure that will make it look much more manageable to voters – over the 20 years the bonds will be paid off the local taxpayer’s share is just $6.92 a month.

When voters go to the polls Tuesday, they should know that fellow citizens designed the project on the ballot. Those citizens did an in-depth study of the needs of our students, community, and businesses. Farmers, main street business owners, teachers, and citizens from all walks of life in the district designed the plan.

Why is the levy referendum so important?

- Manufacturers have said to keep meeting production schedules they need more employees. Our current school facilities are not very attractive to new families considering moving here. Even if parents take a job in the community, they may choose to live elsewhere and enroll their children in the schools in their new hometown.

- Without the workers to fill positions required to meet production schedules, local industries have two choices: Expand in another community, or move their entire operation to where there is a better chance of finding employees. It is happening. It is being discussed. It is a genuine and present danger.

- Discovery Kids, infant and toddler daycare has been a rapidly growing and very successful program for Benson Public Schools. But the program could benefit significantly from the much-improved facilities proposed in the bond levy. The new classrooms would be at the Northside Elementary rather than the junior high.

Area employers say adequate daycare services are essential for them keeping and attracting employees. The success of the district’s daycare programs gives us a real chance to bring new families to our community.

- Our hospital and clinic say that for them to attract more doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and specialists we need better school facilities. Many small towns are struggling to keep their medical facilities from closing, forcing people to drive long distances for care. To keep our clinic and hospital healthy, we need more people moving to the Benson area. Improved school facilities will help us attain that goal.

- Mainstreet is shrinking because there are fewer local residents to shop here. Of course, Amazon and big box stores in neighboring communities hurt us, too. Despite that fact, if we can convince people we have a progressive community ready to invest in its youth we might attract more families here and will see them shopping locally for some of their needs.

- We are losing kids to other schools with much newer and nicer facilities. We could reverse that flow by passing this bond levy to build new facilities and renovate current buildings.

- Our children deserve an investment from this community in their educational facilities. They deserve classrooms that are designed for 21st century collaborative learning.

But commodity prices are low…

Arguments against the bond levy have been few, justifiably so in the face of the overwhelming need for the school district and community to see it pass.

However, one argument made against the levy that may cause some to question its passage is the low commodity prices farmers have seen over the past several years. Even with excellent yields, the persistently low prices have made earning a profit a struggle for many. President Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods, which have caused a backlash against American commodities lowering their prices even more, introduces a new level of fear and uncertainty for farmers.

A significant share of the proposed levy will be assessed on the farmland because it makes up nearly 80 percent of the total market value of the district.

However, over the life cycle of a 20-year bond levy, commodity prices are going to rise and fall. They could be back at 2012 levels a year from now and stay there for three years then fall for a couple years before rising again.

Another important factor in making this the right time for the farm community to support the building levy is Minnesota’s Ag2School 40 percent tax credit for farmland that went into effect in 2017.

Recognizing that school bond levies were putting an unfair burden on farmers, the Legislature passed the law that has it picking up a sizeable share of any school building levy we pass.

With the tax credit, the State of Minnesota will pick up 28 percent of the proposed levy should it pass. That comes to an $11 million contribution to the project and an easing of the local tax burden.

There is no guarantee that a future Legislature will keep this law in place. However, if we pass the levy Aug. 14, the tax credit has to stay in place for the 20-year duration of the bonds sold for the project.

Delaying is costly.

With each passing year, the costs of construction go up about 3 percent. Just a one-year delay would add another nearly $800,000 to the building cost of the project.

Long-term bond interest rates have been going up, but are still relatively low at around 4 percent. Delay the construction another year with interest rates going up to 5 percent and you’ve added another $3.2 million to the cost of the project. With just a one year delay, we would add $4 million to the cost of the current building project raising it to $30.3 million.

Vote “Yes” for a better education for our children and for the health of our community!

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