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Fall 2016 Bond Project – Q & A

Filed in Archive by on November 3, 2016

Investing in your school district is not a task that should be taken lightly, and we want you to cast your vote with confidence on Tuesday, November 29. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we have encountered throughout this process. 

Q. What is a bond referendum?

A. A bond referendum seeks voter approval to permit the District to borrow money up to a specified amount. The District may only borrow up to the amount authorized by the voters, and the funds can only be used for purposes identified in the voter-approved referendum.

Q. Where and when can I vote?

A. Voting will take place on Tuesday, November 29 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Bethlehem Central High School in the Upper Gym (Gym A). Voters should park in the Delaware Avenue paring lot and use the building’s main entrance, which faces Delaware Avenue.

Q. What is included in the 2016 bond referendum?

A. If approved by voters on November 29, the $32.2 million capital project proposal would address infrastructure needs such as roof and window replacement, renovate the high school auditorium, create a modern, flexible learning space in the high school Library Media Center, improve conditions on recreation fields at the high school and middle school, upgrade security at all buildings, address paving needs, remove asbestos, and create operational efficiencies across the district. View full details here.

Q. Why do schools propose capital bond projects?

A. Because it is funded largely by state building aid and bonds, a capital project enables a school district to invest in its facilities – to make repairs, renovations and updates necessary to address health, safety, learning and working environment issues – with significantly less financial pressure on local taxpayers and school budgets. Specifically, without a capital project, Bethlehem would forfeit the opportunity to have approximately 69 percent of project costs covered by state building aid – a significant amount of money for the district and local taxpayers. Without a capital project, school districts would have to find ways to fund this work through their annual operating budgets with no state building aid incentive. In addition to addressing immediate building needs, capital projects are also used to prevent future, often more costly repairs and reconstruction and to save money through improved energy and operational efficiencies.

Q. If we’re taking good care of our school buildings, why do we need a capital project?

A. Your home gets constant wear and tear, both outdoors from the sun and snow and indoors from your daily activities. Multiply that thousands of times and you’ll have an idea of what happens to Bethlehem schools, which serve more than 4,600 active youngsters plus faculty, staff and community members daily. After 20 years of repeated freezing and thawing, roofing starts to fail. After 40 or more years of constant use, HVAC systems become unreliable and inefficient, doors and windows no longer fit properly, and even structures built to be used by hundreds of children daily just plain wear out. Our buildings have become outdated in other ways as well. School safety and security expectations have changed. Students and teachers use more technology to learn, communicate and share information differently than they once did, and school infrastructure needs to keep pace with all of these changes.

Q. How will my taxes be affected if the bond project is approved?

A. If voters approve the referendum, the estimated annual cost for a homeowner in the district would be approximately $16 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value. On a home assessed at $250,000, the annual cost would be approximately $40.

Q. How can a $32.2 million project result in only a $16 tax increase per $100,000 of assessed value?

A. The district anticipates that it will receive state aid on 95 percent of the total cost of the project. New York state building aid is based on a district-specific formula calculated by the state. That formula would pay for approximately 68.6 percent of the project and the remaining 31.4 percent would come from the district (also called the “local share”). To further offset the total cost of the project, Bethlehem voters approved a Capital Reserve fund in 2015 to save money not spent in the general budget for future capital projects. The district will use $4.9 million in reserves to reduce the cost of this project. It is expected any costs related to the local share of the 2016 bond referendum would be reflected in 2021-22 school tax bills. Learn more.

Q. The majority of the cost may be paid by the state, but doesn’t that money also come from my pocket?

A. Yes, it does. Most state money comes from income tax and sales tax paid by all New York residents and businesses. But these are taxes we will all pay whether or not Bethlehem’s Facilities Improvement Project is approved. The leaky roofs, crumbling masonry, and other building needs in our schools are just as real as the needs in New York City, Buffalo, neighboring school districts, or anywhere else in the state.

Q. Didn’t the district just finish work on a facilities improvement project? Why start another one so soon?

A. In the fall of 2015, the district completed work related to a $20 million bond referendum approved by voters in March 2013. The most recent building conditions survey, completed by district architect Ashley McGraw, showed approximately $88 million worth of work that could be done in the short- to mid-term timeline. From that total, the district identified the shorter list of $32.2 million in priority areas. Choosing more frequent projects, at costs far lower than the $97 million project approved in 2003,  provides greater budget stability as debt service for older projects is retired and replaced with debt service costs from small or mid-size capital projects. The more frequent projects are also more manageable in terms of building logistics and regular maintenance needs.

Q. Why do cost estimates for some of the individual project elements seem high?

A. The estimates provided were prepared by the district’s architectural firm, Ashley McGraw, and include funds for architectural and legal services, as well as contingencies and such incidentals as paint and furniture. The estimates are conservative to ensure the capital project proposal includes enough money to do all the work described. State law requires school districts to collect bids for all work to be done as part of a capital project. This allows the district to select the lowest bid for work that will meet detailed specifications. Several factors make school renovations more expensive than people might expect, including state prevailing wage laws and the state Wicks Law, which requires municipalities to collect bids from separate contractors on different parts of any building or renovation projects that cost more than $500,000. Also, school building codes are much more strict than home building codes, particularly when it comes to fire prevention. Another factor is that very little work can be done when school is in session from September to June. Squeezing projects into two summer months and competing with other school districts to use that time window tends to drive bids up.