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Oct 7, 2008 10:11 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Board focuses on school expansion bond vote

Oct 7, 2008 10:11 AM

Remsenburg/Speonk School Board members outlined their plans for a proposed $14.9 million school expansion project on Monday night, only to have the majority of those in attendance question the need for such a project in such economically turbulent times.

The proposed project, which will end up costing about $24 million when interest is calculated over the 20-year life of the bond, would take between three and four years to complete if district taxpayers sign off on the plan during a public vote scheduled for Friday, December 12.

If approved, the expansion project will nearly double the size of the elementary school, from 30,500 square feet to about 60,000 square feet, and allow for more than 400 students to attend the school. Currently, about 200 children attend classes at the building.

On Monday night, the board adopted a resolution that set December 12 as the date for the vote on the $14.9 million bond. Taxpayers will also vote on whether or not to allow the board to allocate about $400,000 left over from the district’s parking lot expansion project to its capital reserve fund.

The cost of the expansion project, which includes the estimated $9 million in interest that will be accrued on the $15 million loan, is expected to increase the district tax rate by 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Therefore, the average district taxpayer, whose home is assessed at $1.3 million, will pay about $701 a year more in school property taxes to cover the cost of the project if the board floats a 20-year bond, according to school business official Brenda Petrolito. She could not say how much taxes would increase if the board instead opts to float a 30-year bond.

To cover the operating costs associated with the expansion, such as utilities and additional staffing, the district tax rate is projected to climb by another 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, according to Ms. Petrolito. She disclosed that figure after being asked a question by audience member Nicole Dennehy.

Ms. Petrolito explained that the average homeowner would pay an additional $264 a year in school taxes in order to cover operating costs associated with the larger school building. She also said that the increase would be reflected in the district’s regular operating budget.

The majority of the estimated 50 people in attendance for Monday night’s meeting said the projected tax increase associated with the project was too high to absorb. Many encouraged School Board members to investigate alternatives to the project, or scale back the scope of the work.

However, School Board member Joel Petersen said the district is focusing on “making sure the bond passes” and said the board “hasn’t discussed what would happen if the bond is not passed” on December 12.

“I hope the bond is passed,” Mr. Petersen said. “I hope the parents come out and vote. We need some support.”

Still, district officials discussed two alternatives to the expansion project on Monday night.

The first would require that the district send its sixth-graders to the Westhampton Beach School District on a tuition basis—a proposal that would cost an estimated $18.5 million over 20 years, according to Remsenburg/Speonk Superintendent Katherine Salomone. The second option would be the utilization of portable classrooms. A single portable building would cost about $100,000, though that figure does not include plumbing and electrical connections, and other site preparation costs.

Mr. Petersen stressed that the board has not thoroughly investigated the feasibility of either option.

Dr. Salomone explained during Monday’s presentation that the project calls for the construction of five new classrooms, and provides students with a new cafeteria, library, language lab and music area. There will also be a new art room and a number of small instructional rooms for special educational services, such as occupational and physical therapy.

Photographs showing how small instruction groups are now meeting in the school’s hallways, while other teachers are working out of converted closets, were displayed as part of a PowerPoint slide-show on Monday night to emphasize the need for expansion.

Jason Wallace, a resident of Remsenburg, said after the meeting that the pictures showed “deplorable conditions” at the school and are proof that the district needs more space for its students. Still, Mr. Wallace was hesitant to state his support of the project without seeing more information on population growth in the Speonk and Remsenburg communities.

Meanwhile, several other audience members addressed the School Board to voice their opposition to the project.

Joe Smyth, a 35-year resident of Remsenburg who owns three properties in the hamlet, said he already pays more than $40,000 a year in property taxes. He said that school officials should “keep expenses at a minimum” because of the current economic recession. “These are not ordinary economic times, you should look at alternatives,” Mr. Smyth said.

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Why not merge with Westhampton and become one district.In the long run that will save money.
By tenn tom (227), remsenburg on Oct 11, 08 10:05 AM
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