Op-Ed: Drowning in bonds in the San Gorgonio Pass


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Commentary: Drowning in bonds in the San Gorgonio Pass

By Chris Mann
For the Record Gazette

I purchased my first house in Banning in late 2002. It was an exciting time. I had saved for several years and worked hard to be able to get into a home. Money was tight, but with a little sacrifice I knew I could swing it. In November, 2002, one month before moving into my new home, Banning Unified School District voters passed Measure L, a $12 million bond that will be on our property tax bills until the year 2029. Measure L joined Measure D, the San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital parcel tax, and the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency debt service as significant costs on my property tax bill.

After three years of home ownership I was thrilled to be able to move up to a larger and newer home this past August. It is a good sized home on a nice lot, but there are certainly many more expensive and much larger homes in Banning than mine.

Although the purchase price of the home was locked in only about a year ago, the price I paid for the home is already quite a bit less than that of most of the new homes currently being built.

Now, just seven months after moving in to the new home, I find myself faced with the possibility of substantial increases to my property tax bill in the form of three new bond measures: Measure A, the $108 million bond to support the expansion of San Gorgonio Pass Memorial Hospital, the $63 million bond to support improvements within the Banning Unified School District and the $720 million bond for the Mt. San Jacinto Community College District.

With the assessments and bonds that are already on our property tax bills, I am currently paying $680 per year toward the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency debt service bond, $163 per year toward Banning Unified School Districtís Measure L, $42.28 per year toward San Gorgonio Hospitalís Measure D and a whopping $1,489.14 per year toward City of Banning Improvement District 2004-1. And all of this is in addition to my regular property taxes of about $4,000 per year. The total amount comes to $6,375 per year, or 1.6% of my home’s assessed value!

Now I suppose I can’t complain too much because, despite the outrageously high taxes that we pay for the privilege of owning a home in this area, I decided to purchase my new home in Banning anyway. Drawn by the natural beauty of the San Gorgonio Pass, the home prices that were still within my reach and (okay, I’ll be honest) the insistence of my fiancé who serves on the Banning City Council and has no desire to ever leave Banning, I was willing to bite the bullet and pay the high taxes and fees that come with living here.

While I can’t do anything about the bonds that have been approved in the past, I certainly can fight to prevent the government from taking even more of our hard earned money in the form of additional and alarmingly expensive bonds.

If Measure A passes on March 28, it is estimated (which means that the real figure could be higher) that by fiscal year 2008-2009 the bond will add $282.24 to my property tax bill (7.056 cents/$100 dollars of assessed valuation).

If the $63 million Banning Unified School District bond passes in June, an estimated $240 dollars will be added to my bill (6 cents per $100 of assessed valuation).

If the Mt. San Jacinto Community College District is successful in passing their massive $720 million bond, my yearly property tax bill will increase by $77.96 (1.95 cents per $100 of assessed valuation).

The passage of all three of these bonds would result in a net increase of more than $600 to my yearly property tax bill! This would represent an increase of 9% percent in the overall amount due on my property tax bill. $600 more each year! An increase of 9% percent! All of these increases being approved in a period of just over two months!

If these bonds pass, I wonder what horrors await us on the November ballot and in years to come?

Now I consider myself to be a strong supporter of our local schools and colleges, and I understand completely the importance of maintaining and expanding our only local hospital. In fact, when my young business is more established I anticipate contributing heavily to the San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital Foundation.

The fact is, however, that bonds are the most expensive way to fund these important projects. Take Measure L, the Banning Unified School District bond that passed in 2002, as an example. This $12 million bond will cost local taxpayers over $10.5 million in interest alone. The total amount that we will have paid by the time the bond is retired in the year 2029 will be over $22.3 million. Now imagine how much the $891 million in bonds that are being proposed between now and June will cost us!

So how should government fund important projects such as these? The answer is really quite simple, though not at all easy. Government must learn to live within its means. Legislators and local officials must force themselves to set priorities with the massive funds that they are already being handed instead of coming back to us for more every time there is a worthy project to be funded. Otherwise, when will it end? Where will the line be drawn? It seems that every election cycle there is another bond proposal on the ballot. When will the bleeding stop? When will we put an end to it? When will we stand up and say enough is enough?

Government, if you want these programs you better start deciding which programs you will cut in order to make room in your budgets. You better figure out how to trim the fat and cut your overhead. You better start setting priorities like all of us have to do for our families and businesses.

This March and June let us send a resounding “NO” to those who would continue heaping tax burden after tax burden upon our shoulders as the easy way out of making tough budget choices. Keeping more of our hard earned money in our pockets for our families is as much a quality of life issue as expanding our hospital and improving our schools. Perhaps even more so, as it affects every single homeowner everyday of our lives. Then, once these bond measures are defeated, let us go to our representatives in Sacramento and Washington D.C. and work to find real and lasting solutions to the serious budget problems that are facing local governments throughout California.