$503 million bond measure gets big-name support

A manual pencil sharpener graces the wall of a science building on the Bakersfield College campus in Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Dozens of people packed into a small office Tuesday night in downtown Bakersfield in support of Measure J.

The measure, which seeks $502.8 million in bonds for the Kern Community College District, has received endorsements from local political heavyweights, including Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and former congressman Bill Thomas.

Both have long-standing connections to Bakersfield College, one of three campuses in the KCCD. Thomas said he got his first "real" job as a teacher at BC in 1965, nine years after the current campus had been built.

Back then, he noted, Bakersfield had a population of around 60,000 people. It's now at 364,000. Thomas said the KCCD campuses have not expanded to keep up.

"As we continue to grow, the needs grow with it," he said.

As for Hall, he attended BC and said many of the paramedics he employs at his ambulance company are trained there.

"If it passes, it will allow for infrastructure at Bakersfield College to improve our buildings, improve the technology component and make it a more learning-accessible campus," said Hall.

The bond will also be used on the districts other two campuses, Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest and Porterville College in Tulare County.

The measure language says the money will be used to "improve and expand facilities" and "address urgent and basic repairs,"including removing asbestos and lead paint, replacing outdated electrical wiring, repairing deteriorating gas and sewer lines and updating facilities to improve accessibility for the disabled.

"The buildings are 60 years old," said Thomas. "If they were trees they'd be enormous. The problem is, classrooms don't grow."

But critics of the bond claim the district has received more than enough money from the state and other bonds.

In an op-ed in The Bakersfield Californian, contractor Joseph Doty wrote, "The KCCD has mismanaged funds for decades, and failed to maintain its buildings with prior tax measures less than 10 years ago."

Michael Turnipseed, the president of the Kern County Taxpayer's Association, disputed that this is a frivolous bond. In fact, he claims "It's the most fiscally responsible school bond in the history of California."

Whether or not that's true, it does have a unique payment structure that would save taxpayers nearly $400 compared to a traditional bond.

Instead of paying off the entire $503 million bond over 30 years, Turnipseed said the district will receive and pay for the bond in five, five-year chunks.

He likens it to a credit card payment.

"If you pay the minimum amount for 30 years, you pay a lot in interest. But if you pay your bill off every month, you reduce interest," he said.

He estimates 92 cents of every dollar spent by taxpayers will go towards the principal, with only 8 cents going towards interest. For the median homeowner, it would end up costing around $50 to $60 a year in property taxes.

The measure specifies that none of the money can be used to pay administrator salaries. To view the full text, click here.

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