The bond that ties (us up)

The Inside Scoop

Ray Quiroga

publisher@sbnewspaper.com

SEPTEMBER 28-OCTOBER 4, 2018

We tend to gravitate to shiny new things, especially when they’re wrapped in nice packaging. Historically speaking, in San Benito, public entities have sold the citizenry on a number of initiatives which have left the people footing the bill, in one form or another. Indeed, whether it’s sketchy infrastructure improvements, to unnecessary and ill-fated overhauls of our water and wastewater systems, the people of the Resaca City have discovered, the hard way, that not all the glitters is gold.

School district officials here are now asking taxpayers to pass a $40 million bond in the November election with one trustee going as far as to say that we’re “entitled” to the amenities the proposed $40 million would supposedly fund. I personally believe that entitlements are part of the problem, not the solution, but I’ll stay on point. One of the district’s arguments in encouraging the voters to pass the bond is the fact that our tax rate won’t increase because the district will be paying off debt in time to make way for this proposed new debt, if this bond should pass. But it’s reasonable to assume that our tax rate would decrease if we had less debt. That’s possibly more money in our pockets at a time when gas prices are hitting $2.45 a gallon, inflation is high and we’re lucky to get out of the grocery store without paying $116 for the same items that cost $85 just a few years ago. In fact, while the state and national economy are boasting positive numbers, we’re living in extraordinary uncertain economic times and now is not the time to be saddled with more debt which we’d be paying off for the foreseeable future.

But even if a tax break isn’t part of the deal, we need to ask ourselves why and if we actually need the amenities that are on the table – amenities which include a multi-purpose sports facility, aquatics center, and a performance arts center. What percentage of the population would actually benefit from these amenities? Understand this is coming from a guy (as in me) whose daughter, a 2018 SBHS graduate, is attending university on a music scholarship, and is shining brightly among her classmates, to boot; but she didn’t need a $30 million building in order to succeed. On the contrary, I’m of the belief that pretty edifices are just that, pretty. It’s what goes on in those buildings (and in the homes) that matters. Sure, I’ve read studies that show school pride fostered by a campus esthetics can have a positive impact on a child’s education but a study compiled by the Texas Comptroller several years ago indicated that a district’s wealth had little to do with a student’s success because a fraction of a penny for every tax dollar goes to the actual public school student with most of our tax dollars allocated to buildings and administration. Indeed, our problems here are deep-rooted cultural and socio-economic issues that physical structures do not address.

Instead, the district, and we as a community, need to better use what we already have, and do what we’re doing even better instead of teaching our kids that the way to keep up with the Joneses, which in this case are our neighboring communities, is through debt instead of being smarter and more resourceful. The argument that just because our neighbors have something, so we need it too, even if it’s not affordable, is just flawed.  Instead, we should try to contract with those communities to utilize those facilities, when, where and if, the need arises, as I know we have done, in past occasions.

It’s also worth noting that, as far back as I can recall, the district has passed, at least, four other bonds: one in 1997, ’99, 2004, and 2008, with the district leaders citing growth as a prime motivator for getting into debt. Now population decline is being cited as the reason to spend and build. But unlike the late ‘90s and the early part of this century, the government is not coming in to match some of those monies which made some of those past bond proposals that much more appealing.

I realize that standing against the bond is unpopular and maybe spitting in the wind because voter turnout is an absolute embarrassment here, and among the relative few that do vote, even fewer are property owners, so they have little to lose by voting for the bond. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet the bond will pass, as voters are easily lured with the promise of free things. But just remember, nobody rides for free. San Benito, as whole, is struggling to dig itself out of an economic slump and there have been positive signs that we’re doing just that, highlighted by city-sponsored programs to encourage downtown growth and development. Now is the not the time for more debt, plain and simple. But whether you’re for, against or undecided, I encourage you to get informed, get involved, ask questions and attend the next town hall meeting to be held at San Benito High School on Monday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. Early voting begins on Oct. 22 and Election Day is Nov. 6th.  Early voting will take place at SBHS, Riverside Middle School and at the Community Building.

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