For many, 2020 was going to be the year.
The economy was booming, 2019 — a year the majority of Americans said was terrible — was in the rearview mirror, the Olympics were on the horizon, and Tom Cruise was set to bring back Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a new “Top Gun.”
But then a worldwide pandemic crashed the party, locked us inside, and began wrecking local economies. We canceled trips, turned our living rooms into home offices, distanced ourselves from loved ones, and postponed, axed or rejiggered longstanding plans — all in the name of putting or neighbor’s wellbeing in front of our own.
Which puts us in a tricky situation when looking over this month’s ballot.
Roseburg Public Schools is asking voters to approve a $94 million bond levy for safety and security systems, vocational education, indoor air quality improvements, heating and cooling systems and technology infrastructure at each school in the district, as well as funding five new gymnasiums at elementary schools and replacing the Heritage Building.
Supporters of the bond say it will boost the economy by creating jobs, making the area more attractive for prospective residents, and by producing a young workforce capable of tackling the 21st century’s complex and technologically-advanced problems.
It’s no secret that Douglas County is struggling to attract, let alone retain, a powerful workforce, and outdated educational facilities may be to blame. After all, when young professionals look at moving to the area — often with their young families in tow — our overgrown halls of ivy don’t exactly scream “move here.”
And for the most part, the supporters are right. District-wide renovations could help attract neurologists, accountants, and other specialists to the area while making life better for the rest of us because investing in education early and often is critical in maintaining a strong community. A community, by the way, made so great by the facilities paid for by the debts of generations past.
But times are drastically different than they were in February when Superintendent Jared Cordon submitted the measure to the county clerk. COVID-19 has decimated small businesses and forced workers to file unemployment insurance claims at a record-breaking pace.
In Sutherlin, Superintendent Terri Prestianni pulled his bond from the ballot in March, saying the community would be stretched too thin.
“We have to remember our community of businesses, and for them to be shut down and then think there’s even the possibility of raising taxes. I think that’s not good,” he said.
Even as Oregon begins to slowly open, the losses to companies nationwide, many already overwhelmed with debt, could trigger a financial crisis so dire it would be the deepest dive for the global economy for over 100 years, according to Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist.
“I feel like the 2008 financial crisis was just a dry run for this,” he told The New York Times in April.
Which makes it difficult to justify voting in favor of a bond of any size — even one as critical as this. The bond would mature in 20 years and have an estimated tax rate of $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed property, a 63-cent per $1,000 increase over the current rate, which pre-pandemic, would have been a worthy investment. But with many in the county not knowing when their next paycheck will come, whether their jobs will return as swiftly as they hope, or if they’ll ever get to unlock their storefront doors, it’s too risky to support an additional tax.
Unfortunately, 2020 just isn’t the year.