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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Abatement bonds hit a 'bump in the road,' Bates says

  • Project package at three local schools and swimming pool will proceed as is, superintendent stresses.
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  • Calling it a "bump in the road," Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates told the Times Thursday that some issues have arisen at the state level in regard to legislation that allows school districts, cities and counties to issue "abatement bonds" for various projects.
    As a result of the concerns raised by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and others, Bates said further funding of projects to be financed with abatement bonds is on hold, at least for the time being.
    What is means for Crookston is that around $2.6 million of the approximately $16 million in maintenance and improvement projects the school board is pursuing at the three public school buildings and swimming pool – some of which doesn't require voter approval, and some of which a majority of voters will be asked to approve in a special election in November – will possibly be delayed. Bates and the board had hoped to get the projects started at the conclusion of the 2013-14 school year next spring.
    Projects funded by abatement bonds don't require voter approval. Abatement bonds are earmarked for replacement of the east and west parking lots at Crookston High School, as well as some of the work at the pool.
    Bates told the Times, and detailed to board members and staff in an email, that he heard about concerns with abatement bonds at the Minnesota Department of Education a few weeks ago. Some schools' projects were approved and others were not, he said, and the MDE put the brakes on abatement bond-financed projects after a metro-area school wanted to utilize the bonds to repair a hockey arena.
    "They said they're not letting people do buildings and we said we're doing parking lots," Bates said. "They said no, they're not letting anyone do anything in the short-term."
    Bates said he spoke to board chair Frank Fee and the decision was made to not alter the project package that has been put together at the four local facilities. "We'll keep all of the amounts the same, and the abatement bonds will likely come a couple months later," Bates said. "For us, everything else is approved and we're good to go heading into the vote and next year's schedule."
    The school district's financial advisor, Springsted, along with the Dorsey and Whitney law firm, will be at the State Capitol in St. Paul trying to hash out the matter on behalf of all school districts who are being impacted, Bates said, adding that he and board members will monitor the goings-on.
    "We could have gone back and altered the amount we're asking voters to consider, but we didn't want to confuse the situation or frustrate anyone, because these bonds don't need voter approval," he said. "The focus is on keeping the same amount in our sights. In a perfect world, they'll resolve it and we'll still get things done next summer."
    Page 2 of 2 - The abatement bond legislation was passed so that school districts, cities and counties could raise money for "extremely essential" projects, the superintendent explained. "Of everything we're doing, I don't know if anything is more needed than those parking lots," he said.
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