Princeton Public Schools officials hold press conference on $17.5 million bond referendum to replace roofs (updated)
Voters in Princeton will be asked to approve a $17.5 million bond referendum to replace roofs at the district’s six schools in a special election on Jan. 25.
The owner of a property assessed at the town’s average of $830,000 would pay an estimated $162 in 2023, $262 in 2024, and $65 per year for the next 18 years if voters approve the referendum.
District Business Administrator Matt Bouldin said debt from the 2004 high school performing arts center referendum will be paid off, so overall debt service paid by Princeton taxpayers would still decrease if the referendum is passed. Six million dollars in debt service will be paid off over the next two budget years, Bouldin said.
“We are looking to keep taxes smoothed out,” Bouldin said. “In the near term, we are hoping to keep the overall tax levy flat to a slight decrease. We are looking at frontloading a little debt in this potential referendum. Close to $500,000 is forecast at this time. We are developing a budget right now. We want to keep debt service no higher than the high water mark two years ago.”
Bouldin said the bond is being structured with higher payments in the first two years to save taxpayers an estimated $500,000 over the 20-year term.
The state will fund up to 34% of the principal and interest for the bonds. That funding is already figured into the amount taxpayers would pay if the referendum is passed.
The roofs would be replaced over four years. The district conducted an audit of the roofs in 2019 and determined they are in urgent need of replacement. District officials have determined it is not possible to fund roof repairs using roof warranties because the proposed work is on roofs that, due to their age, are either no longer covered by warranties or are near their end-of-life, with warranties potentially reimbursing for pennies-on-the-dollar, if at all.
Roofs were not a priority in the 2018 referendum, which funded the replacement of HVAC systems to address mold issues in the schools. School Board Vice President Dafna Kendal said for the last referendum, it was determined that the roofs were something the district could wait on.
“In the past several years, the roofs have really deteriorated,” Kendal said. “Littlebrook Elementary has 35 patches on the roof. Others are in similar condition. We knew it was going to be an issue. That’s why the board commissioned a study. We wanted to get every last day out of the roofs we could.”
Voters in Princeton approved the $27 million bond referendum for HVAC systems and other improvements in a special election just three years ago in Dec. of 2018. Asked by a reporter whether bond referendums will regularly be put before the voters every few years rather than putting larger referendums before the voters every decade or more, it appeared that “maintenance” referendums likely will be more frequent. Officials said the HVAC system for the district will need replacing in six to 10 years, for example.
School Board President Beth Behrend said the district has a rolling list of things that need to be done and systems that need updating that would need to get funded every couple of years.
Other non-maintenance referendums could also be put before the voters to address the increasing student population and the need for more facilities or for modernizing facilities.
For the current referendum, the district hired public relations strategist Matthew Frankel of MDF Strategies to manage the information provided to the press and public for the referendum. A spokeswoman for the district said Monday that the district is no longer working with Frankel on the referendum.
Voting on the referendum will take place at the district’s four elementary schools from 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Jan. 25. Voters can also vote by mail. Schools will be dismissed early for the election.
This referendum and the bond(s) it authorizes sound reasonable and needed. Personally, I have absolutely no problem with it. In fact I voted “Yes” by mail just today.
As a Princeton school taxpayer I do have two problems with it:
1) Why on earth does the School Board believe it necessary to spend our tax dollars to hire a PR strategist to help communicate the referendum? Even if the “district is no longer working with Frankel” (now), would not the merits of the referendum, communicated by the Board, be enough?
2) Why must we taxpayers have to pay for a special election in January to vote on this referendum? Why was it not a part of the general election in November – just 5 weeks ago? I fully understand that the State had to bless these expenditures in order for us to gain its payment of a portion of the debt service costs. But surely the physical facility needs of the schools were well known to the Board long enough ago to start the process with the State in a more timely manner – such that it could have been on the November ballot.
If I were a cynic I might think that the Board’s strategy is to minimize turnout by holding a special election, versus voting on the referendum in the General. That supporters of the referendum are more likely to take the trouble to vote in a special election, versus those that oppose it who vote in the general election.
@John Yes, I believe you are correct that the Board choose to have a special election in January in order to ensure that only motivated voters in favor of the referendum would come out to vote.
Here’s another issue to be cynical about. This bond issue will front load the debt payments so that the tax burden will not go down over the next two years. In two years, when the tax burden is finally going to go down, the Board will have another facilities bond referendum to maintain the current tax level. The goal is to never let the tax rate for the debt to decrease to a lower level or expire as taxpayers are accustomed to paying taxes at the current rate. If the tax rate for the facilities debt ever went down, then the rate would go up in the future when there was another referendum. But no one wants to be accused of raising taxes, so the debt payment plan is managed to keep taxes smoothed out.
It maybe worthwhile to include a link to application to vote by mail, where one can request mail-in ballot for just this election: https://www.state.nj.us/state/elections/assets/pdf/forms-vote-by-mail/vote-by-mail-english-mercer.pdf
If Princeton is going to tax cannabis why can’t they use it for school improvements instead of raising resident taxes?
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