Shoreham-Wading River ballot measures now on hold

10/22/2014 1:10 PM |
The Shoreham-Wading River High School tennis courts have been closed and locked since March after they were declared unsafe. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

The Shoreham-Wading River High School tennis courts have been closed and locked since March after they were declared unsafe. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

A scheduled Dec. 9 vote on a nearly $50 million districtwide capital improvement project is now on hold while the Shoreham-Wading River school board awaits legal advice on the wording of two ballot propositions. 

The legal questions arose primarily because funds for the proposed construction would come from two different sources.

Of the $48 million in total spending, $33 million would be bonded out and borrowed; another $15 million would technically come through reserves the district has saved from previous years of state aid funding. Using the prior years’ state aid instead of bonding the entire amount could save the district close to $6 million in interest over the life of the repayments, board members said.

“In essence, we are trying to determine the best way to put the entire scope of the work out for the community in a simple, straightforward and unconfused way,” school board president William McGrath said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Right now, we’re confused.”

Presenting the ballot measures separately — as was originally approved two weeks ago — could create the awkward implication that one is a higher priority than the other, which concerned some members of the board.

But board member Jack Costas said he thinks tying the two together is the wrong approach.

“I don’t feel the two can be linked,” he said. “The only linkage they can have would be to be voted on the same day … We can’t hold a gun to someone’s head and say, ‘I’ll give you $15 million if you fork over more tax dollars.’”

As proposed, the $15 million proposal using prior year state aid would be used for projects that consultants and community members recently identified as critical, like roofing and constructing bus loops. The $33 million bond referendum proposal would pay for other repairs and upgrades to the district’s aging infrastructure, including replacing windows and reconstructing the tennis courts.

While Mr. Costas admitted Tuesday that he’s “not an attorney or a legislator,” separate lawyers advising the district on the propositions — bond and general counsel — are at odds over what would be advisable.

Mr. McGrath said the board was informed of the “very muddy [legal] waters” last Friday afternoon and said it would work quickly to get the referenda to a vote as soon as possible.

Board member John Zukowski said he hopes to call for a special meeting before the board’s next meeting Nov. 4 to clear up the matter and possibly lead to a January vote. That idea is something members of the district’s bond committee said they appreciated. It’s also something other board members identified as critical if construction is to be completed by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

“People have to understand, at some point all of this is going to have to get done,” said bond committee member Gina Bettenhauser. “We can’t continue to move forward the way we are. It’s just not going to work.”

District voters have never passed a bond. In 2009, they rejected a $39 million proposal to upgrade only the middle school.

If voters approve the proposed bond, the average homeowner will pay about $30 extra per month in property taxes starting in four years, when the first bond payment is due, Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, has said. He added that those estimates are calculated for a homeowner with a “$400,000 full-value property” and factor in building aid the state typically offers school districts that include certain projects, like asbestos remediation in a construction proposal.

Board members Sean Beran and Robert Rose were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

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