Our View: Who will raise that $125,000 now?
Last week the Board of Education approved an expenditure of $125,000 for a walking underpass that will connect the new River Crest Elementary with YMCA Camp St. Croix, but we're not totally comfortable with the process.
We agree that the underpass makes sense. It will be a great asset to the school as it will allow the school access to all the wonderful facilities at the YMCA. The underpass also addresses safety issues. And, the timing is right. The county plans to work on County F this spring and summer -- if an underpass is to be constructed, now is the time to do it. In fact, constructing the tunnel at the same time as road repairs are done could mean savings of $35,000 to $40,000, according to school officials.
So why are we uneasy?
When the underpass was first discussed, the plan was to raise the money from private funds. There was no discussion of tax dollars being involved in the project until last month when the board approved $8,000 to have Stevens Engineering prepare a design and map for the project. At the time, board representatives said the plan and map were "necessary to get the fund-raising 'rolling.'" In January we were still left with the impression that the construction funds would come from private sources.
Just one month later, taxpayers are now funding the entire district portion of the project. That's why we're uneasy.
What the board has done, of course, is perfectly legal and it could be argued that it was a good decision.
By changing the funding plan of the underpass on short notice, however, the board perpetuates the impression that the well of tax dollars is never ending. If the first plan does not succeed, it looks awfully easy to dip into the well of tax dollars with no public discussion of the impending change of direction.
In the grand scheme of things, $125,000 is not a lot of money considering that the school budget is something in the neighborhood of $50-plus million. School officials vow that they will continue to go after private funds to cover the cost of the underpass, and we encourage that process. In our estimation it may be difficult to collect those funds after the project is complete. Some board members are confident that money will be collected. The process, however, leaves the impression that taxpayers could ultimately foot the bill for a project's funding that was not clearly outlined from the get-go.
Hopefully the board will raise the private funds -- it would help clear the illusion that tax dollars are always available at the whim of the district.