Supervisors hear arguments against school bond referendum

A pair of Jefferson residents spoke out against the upcoming school bond referendum at the county supervisors’ meeting Monday. The county is involved in the $35 million project with a commitment last week of $5 million in tax increment financing revenues for the construction of a regional career academy adjacent to the proposed new high school.

Mary Figenshaw, a 1966 Jefferson High School graduate, took advantage of a short break between agenda items to tell the supervisors they’ve overstepped their bounds in approving $5 million to the project, and not roads and bridges.

She scolded the supervisors about using TIF, which in effect borrows from future tax receipts, calling it “wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.”

She said the career academy depends on a “maybe” that 60 students will attend. She said there’s no guarantee the spots will fill, and there’s no guarantee that students who attend the academy will get jobs and stay in the county.

“You should not be building career centers on a ‘maybe’ because somebody thinks that’s the thing to do. What’s going to happen when taxes go so high people won’t have spendable income anymore?” Figenshaw asked.

She said constructing a competition gym is an attempt “to look like we’re Waukee. No, we aren’t. We’re Jefferson, Iowa. We’re Greene County, and we need to act like it…. For us to have this wish that we’re going to grow – we are what we are. Be proud of what we are. We’re a nice, quaint little town. We’re not Jordan Creek Mall. We should be who we are.”

“Think of our taxes. Think of our debt load. You can’t borrow against the future because you don’t know what the future’s going to be,” she said.

She compared the short time line on the bond referendum to a shotgun wedding, saying six weeks is too short to plan a wedding or a bond referendum. “I don’t want a shotgun bond issue. It’s not fair to the taxpayers,” she said. She wants to see plans and know what the land will cost before the election. “I want to see to every penny what it’s going to cost. They don’t want to tell us.”

“I’m not against education. I’m not against motherhood and apple pie. I’m against stupidity,” she said.

Board chair John Muir answered her on a few points, but the supervisors, for the most part, just listened. After Figenshaw finished, supervisor Dawn Rudolph assured her that all the supervisors “are dedicated to spending money on our roads. I don’t want people to think we won’t do that.”

Muir said later in the meeting that $5 million is only a portion of the potential TIF revenue and that there will be enough to fund road and bridge projects. The supervisors didn’t have an estimate of total revenues possible, but said they’d have that figure by the March 5 meeting.

Denny Lautner, also a 1966 Jefferson High School graduate, spoke during the open forum at the beginning of the meeting.

Lautner questioned whether a career academy is economic development, and said there should be two separate ballot questions rather than putting a new high school and a career academy in the same question.

He said the referendum “is being shoved down our throats like dry crackers with no water.”

He next questioned whether there’s a conflict of interest in the Muir household, as John Muir’s wife Brenda is business manager for the school and on the Grow Greene County board. He suggested that Brenda swayed John’s vote on using TIF.

Muir answered that there is no conflict of interest because neither of them will see financial gain should the project be completed. “If you’re questioning my character or hers, you need to have some proof of what you’re saying. You can ask her what determined her vote with Grow Greene County. My vote was based on what’s best for the community tomorrow and five years from now,” Muir said.

He also told Lautner that after the school shooting in Florida he is more convinced that the project is needed to have schools with secure entrances. He said talking with employers around the county who are frustrated in the lack of trained employees convinced him of the need for the regional academy.

Lautner said he supports the career academy, but he’d prefer it be built on the current high school campus. “It wouldn’t have cost us a dime,” he said.

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