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School board member: time to sell Rt. 126 land : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
School board member: time to sell Rt. 126 land
O'Neil: use sale proceeds to pay for maintenance, capital projects

by Lyle R. Rolfe


Oswego School District Board member Greg O'Neil suggested at last week's board meeting the district consider selling undeveloped farmland it owns south of Oswego to raise needed funds.

The board was discussing money the district requires for normal maintenance and upkeep of district facilities. They had approved spending $3.6 million for 13 projects to make repairs and other improvements to school district buildings and facilities this year.

Associate Superintendent Dr. Paul O'Malley said the district has $7.2 million in funds remaining from past construction projects. He said $3.6 million would be used for the above 13 projects.

"This money is available in the district's Capital Projects Fund for additions, renovations or other capital projects. The money, in part, is the result of savings generated from being under budget on several past construction projects, including two high school additions, a new maintenance facility, a new transportation facility, and several board-approved capital projects," he said.

They include projects from 2007 through 2013 that came in under budget, and a balance from bonds sold for the recently completed additions to the district's two high schools.

The funds also include money from the $450 million general obligation bond issue approved by the voters in November 2006 for construction of several new schools, additions to others and some repairs.

O'Malley said there is no time limit on when bond proceeds must be spent.

O'Neil said he was opposed to taking the bond money and using it for repairs and maintenance projects.

O'Neil said Kendall County has the third-highest property taxes in the country. He said only two counties pay more-Allegheny, New York and Milwaukee, Wis.

"The average American pays 1.4 percent of the value of their home in property taxes. We're at almost 300 percent and we're borrowing money now to repair stuff," he said.

O'Neil noted that the district is more than $50 million in debt and they are borrowing more "...because we can't figure out how to put a maintenance and operations budget together."

Board President Bill Walsh disagreed with O'Neil, saying they are using money that was borrowed for capital projects in the past-ones that were completed below estimates, leaving the district with a balance of funds they are now using for these projects.

Walsh said the district also saved money by adding onto the existing two high schools rather than building a third high school as had been planned before a new board was elected in April 2011 and killed the proposal to build a new school.

He said they need to make the repairs before someone is injured and files a lawsuit against the district.

Walsh agreed they need to create an operating and maintenance budget for the projects and repairs. He said the previous administration focused on new construction rather than maintaining existing facilities.

O'Neil said the district was able to take care of maintenance problems for the past 10-20 years and asked how it was done.

Bill Baumann, operations director, said they had a budget for it at that time.

O'Neil then presented his proposal to sell unused land owned by the district to raise money.

"We have a vacant piece of land at Ill. Route 126 and Grove Road on which we spent $5 million. There's no plan for future use of it, so let's sell it," he said.

O'Neil said he would be in favor of them proceeding with the repair and maintenance work provided they would sell the vacant land and apply that money toward these projects.

"But I do not want to use bond money. I think it erodes the referendum process. I followed the election procedures very closely for the last election and I never heard one candidate say they could not wait to use this money to start making repairs at all the schools.

"I was all about the high school additions. Not one word came out of anybody's mouth about making repairs. Not one word," he said, adding, "This is the way to do it because that piece of land will never be used-at least not in my lifetime-for a school."

Wendt said the Route 126 parcel is not the only district owned property that could potentially be sold.

He suggested discussing the sale of unused property at a future board workshop meeting.

O'Neil suggested they postpone action on obtaining bids for the $3.2 million in projects, because he wanted to find a way to avoid using the remaining bond money for the work.

"It's been borrowed, but it can be returned. They will take the money back," he said referring to applying the $3.2 million toward retiring bonds.

Board members voted to proceed with advertising for bids on the projects. Wendt said he would be willing to do just the life-safety projects at this time and hold off on the others.

Walsh noted that the issue before the board for vote would authorize the district to advertise for bids on the projects to see what the cost and other details would be. All information would come back to the board for approval, he said.

Walsh added that they could proceed with the motion now and discuss funding during the interim.

Board member Brent Lightfoot said he thought some of the funds used to purchase the Route 126 land were land-cash dollars that came from builders in that area. If so, the district can use the funds only for construction in that area, he said.

O'Malley was asked to find out.

"Proceeding with this project would not be more than a stop-gap measure. I think it's crazy to borrow money for capital improvement projects," O'Neil said.

The vote was unanimous to obtain bids for the 13 projects.

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