PROSSER -- The budget has been squeezed and scoured. The proposal was rewritten to pay back voters if the money's not spent.
Now the bond issue for a new high school in Prosser is going back to voters.
The Prosser School Board on Thursday unanimously voted to run a $39 million bond election April 26. The board made the decision fairly quickly after hearing a last-minute analysis by an independent expert and partially re-writing the proposal to reflect voter wishes.
The proposal for a new high school east of Art Fiker Stadium twice has failed -- in 2005 and last month.
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The most recent proposal for a $41 million bond gained the support of almost 57 percent of voters, but it needed 60 percent.
Since the last defeat, district officials have said they would like to run the bond again as soon as possible to use the momentum of having come so close.
Delaying the election past next November also would have meant "starting all over again at the back of the line" for state matching money, project manager Doug Nichols said.
The district needed to find out why enough voters had rejected the proposal even though there seemed to be consensus in town that a new high school is long overdue.
It got its answer at the past few board meetings. Several Prosser residents questioned if the district and its contractors had put together the leanest budget possible.
And some wondered what would happen with any remaining money if the new school turned out to be cheaper than anticipated.
Those concerns were addressed this week, which is why the board passed the proposal with little discussion.
After last week's meeting, the district hired Meng Analysis, a Seattle firm that specializes in cost estimates for school construction.
The firm reviewed the proposed budget, keeping in mind that "the district is not looking for a Cadillac, but a durable facility that'll last for 50 years," said Joel Davis with Meng Analysis.
He compared this project to a list of others around the state, factoring in regional price differences. Prosser's proposal was right in the middle of the pack, Davis said.
"Is the proposed budget reasonable?" Davis said. "The answer is yes."
The architects hired by the district last week revised their original estimate down by more than $2 million. Prices driven down by the recession are rising slower than anticipated, they said.
If that trend continues and not all of the money is spent, the district cannot use it to fix up other schools. Bond attorney Jim McNeill rewrote the proposal so that any money left over must be used to pay off the bond and lower property tax rates.
What these rates will be is not yet set, McNeill said. Unlike operations levies, bond proposals don't give specific property tax rates, because a district's assessed values might change by the time the bonds are sold on the financial market.
Right now, the $39 million bond would trigger tax rates of $2.35 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $235 for a $100,000 home.
The last payment for the previous bond will be made in December, said Craig Reynolds, the district's business manager. Property owners are paying $1.37 per thousand for that bond this year.
That means if voters pass the new bond April 26, their taxes for a $100,000 home will be $98 higher next year than they are this year.
As the board was about to vote, board member Win Taylor asked if they couldn't take another $1 million out of the budget by committing to the lowest-cost option for the remodel of the old high school, which will become a community center and district administration office.
But the rest of the board thought that the budget had been squeezed enough and very little cushion remained for unexpected costs.