Riverhead school district voters will head to the polls Tuesday to vote on a budget that carries a 3.94 percent tax levy increase over last year. In addition, a series of propositions are on the ballot that would move the district’s outdated transportation facility to a new location in Calverton, call for a new turf field by borrowing $1.2 million, and create a new $5 million reserve account.
Residents voted down a proposal in May 2013 to relocate the district’s aging bus garage — originally built in 1920 to house horses — to Riverside. But that same year, they also approved a second proposition to establish a transportation, maintenance and athletic fields capital reserve fund that would top out at $10 million.
According to Superintendent Nancy Carney, that reserve fund has since been filled using $6.74 million from end-of-year budget surpluses as well as $1.97 million from selling land the district previously owned in Aquebogue.
Relocating a new bus complex for the district carries a $9.5 million price tag and would be paid for through the capital reserve fund. The project includes purchasing a transportation facility near the intersection of Edwards Avenue and Route 25, renovating a garage located on that property and tearing down the district’s existing bus barn. The plan also includes building a maintenance facility near the main campus in Riverhead.
The turf field project, which is contingent upon voters approving the transportation project proposition, asks residents to approve a $1.2 million bond to turn the soccer field located next to McKillop Field, where the football team plays, into a new multi-sport synthetic facility.
Ms. Carney said the turf field is contingent upon voters approving the bus garage’s relocation plan because it needs the space where the old bus barn is currently located.
Andrew Fitzpatrick of Aquebogue has pleaded with school officials during recent Board of Education meetings to seriously consider getting a turf field. His son plays lacrosse and said players had been practicing in the gym before the season started because the school’s fields were “underwater.”
“Our fields don’t drain properly — they are the worst fields in Suffolk County, in my opinion,” he said. “I’ve been in this community for 14 years and the fields have been in that shape since the day I have arrived.”
In addition to the transportation and turf field propositions, voters will be asked to approve another $5 million repair reserve fund, now that the current $5 million account established in 2011 is nearly exhausted. The repair reserve is also funded from end-of-year budget surpluses and was created to supplement the ongoing $79 million districtwide construction bond project.
As for the budget, the district is proposing a $125.9 million spending plan carrying an estimated 3.94 percent increase, or nearly $3.6 million, to next year’s tax levy.
Under the state-mandated tax cap, the district could have presented a budget with a 4.58 percent increase in the tax levy without needing 60 percent voter approval.
The allowable amount is over 2 percent because the state exempts expenses like capital improvement projects from the tax cap calculation.
Ms. Carney has said the increase is needed to maintain and enhance student programs, as well as fund added costs in instruction, guidance, security and debt service, among other expenses.
Total costs for regular classroom instruction — including teacher salaries, textbooks and supplies — are up nearly 6.17 percent and projected to total $41.3 million.
The district is also proposing a 27 percent hike in its security budget for next year, boosting it by $242,600 to about $1.13 million. The increase is needed to hire additional guards and to purchase new cameras and recording equipment, as well as expand the Project Safeguard and BadgePass visitor systems.
“It’s all about prevention and preparedness,” Ms. Carney said in a recent interview about the proposed upgrades. “It is my hope that within several years, the entire district will be upgraded to modern digital camera technology.”
Expenses in the guidance department are up 10 percent and expected to total $1.4 million. A middle school guidance counselor position has also been restored in next year’s spending plan.
As for transportation, expenses are estimated to total about $6 million next year, a 5.84 percent increase.
Residents are instructed to vote at their respective elementary schools. Due to construction, Roanoke Avenue School residents are to vote at the high school.
Polls are open between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.