Columbia School Board OKs tax levy

A group of sixth grade choir students performed for the Columbia School Board at its meeting Dec. 19. The students sang their three favorite Christmas songs. Earlier this month, the students caroled in various neighborhoods to spread cheer and raise money for the Columbia Caring for Our Community charity. Led by Columbia Middle School teachers Kelly Landgraf, Dawn Williamson and Andrew Thompson, they raised over $2,600. Pictured, from left, are Terra Albers, Emily Webb, Addison Tarr, Charlie Bass, Caleb Jacobs, Jonah Velnosky, Rosebir Bhullar, Carly Chambers, Molly McClane, Jolson Helfer, Philo Speichinger and Dylan Robinson. Not pictured are choir members Alina St. Clair, Skyler Durbin and Rowan Lewis. 

The Columbia School Board approved its 2019 tax levy, which is payable next year, at its meeting Thursday night. 

The district is seeking to levy approximately 4.2 percent more than it did last year. That is about $400,000 more than last year’s roughly $13.2 million levy request. 

“The expenses keep going up,” Interim Superintendent Victor Buehler said. “Personnel is going up.”

As in Waterloo, the Columbia school district will only get that money if the equalized assessed value in its district commensurately increases. 

Additionally, the additional money would primarily come from new or reassessed property. 

Five members voted to OK the levy. Board member Greg Meyer was not present and board member Tammy Hines abstained. 

When the board discussed the levy last month, Hines voiced concerns about the district levying its nickel tax in the health/life safety fund because the district did not have any projects listed in that area. 

Buehler recommended the board approve the levy as presented last month. 

The board also discussed construction projects for next summer, which Buehler said was important to start planning soon. 

He said the district’s priorities seem to be the heating, ventilation and air condition system and roof at Columbia High School. 

“If we do those, we need, particularly for the heating and air, to get the material ordered,” Buehler explained. “It takes two to three months sometimes to get it.” 

Buehler recommended the board get bids from multiple firms for a performance contract for that work, which would be among the first things done. 

Hines questioned if the district should use its recently hired architect, FGM Architects, instead of a performance contract. 

She said she had a “bad taste in (her) mouth” after the district’s experience using a performance contract to replace the roof at Parkview Elementary School, which has been a contentious item throughout 2019. 

Buehler said he did not think that was necessary because getting multiple bids would ensure the district gets a fair price and a performance contract could save money. 

“If you only get one or two bids, you can get in trouble,” Buehler said. “I feel safe by getting at least three.” 

Hines also asked if the board should first complete its 10-year health/life safety surveys before deciding on what projects it should begin. 

The surveys are completed once a decade for each school building. They identify any potential health/life safety code violations and how to remedy them.

Columbia currently needs to perform some of those surveys. 

“How do we plan financially if we don’t have our 10-year health/life safety survey and don’t know the other things that are coming down the pike,” she said. 

Buehler said, in his experience, the surveys mainly list smaller items because those are the code violations. 

“In the life safety report, they didn’t put any of the big stuff down,” he said of previous surveys. “Of course, nobody does. When the (Regional Office of Education) comes through, they only look for the little things.” 

The board decided to direct Buehler to start planning for the projects at CHS. After those get started, it will address the surveys. 

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