BENZONIA — Benzie County voters said no again. This time by a slightly thinner margin.
Voters on Tuesday turned down Benzie County Central Schools’ $47.85-million bond proposal for the second time in six months. Unofficial results had 1,573 voting “yes” and 1,674 voting “no.” Tuesday’s proposal was nearly identical to one that failed by 114 votes in May.
Benzie Schools Superintendent Matt Olson said he was encouraged by the higher turnout — up more than 700 votes — but he was disappointed by the result.
“We definitely need to step back and take a breath and think about where we go from here,” Olson said. “I said this the last time — and I’m going to repeat myself — our needs have not gone away. They’re actually only getting worse.”
The failed proposal sought to levy the same amount of money with a lower millage rate — down to 2.98 from 3.0 — over a shorter period of time — 26 years instead of 30. It also outlined the addition of two new preschool classrooms at Lake Ann Elementary School, which was not included in the May initiative.
The highlight of the bond would have been the construction of a new elementary school, which would replace Crystal Lake Elementary, along with upgrades to all of the other buildings in the district.
Olson said the path forward must include major infrastructure work.
“We have to consider that if we start axing things off this to make it cheaper and make it more palatable in terms of cost, we run the risk of having problems down the road that we’d have to ask for help again,” he said. “The goal of this was to make it a one-and-done thing.”
Olson said the proposal struggled to gain support in Homestead, Inland and Platte townships, which were served by Platte River Elementary. The Benzie Board of Education shuttered Platte River in 2017 because of declining enrollment, and Olson said there still are some lingering issues from that decision.
“This is still a hard, hard pill to swallow,” Olson said.
Olson is not sure if the district will try to get voter approval on a capital projects bond in the next election. Benzie will rely on the 0.9-mill sinking tax fund, which brings in just $700,000 a year, to manage any urgent needs.