Last week, taxpayers spoke loud and clear against the escalating taxes, which present quite a burden to many residents and business owners. On a snowy day with a travel advisory, property owners came out to vote down the mini-bond referendum to repair some of the buildings in the school district, especially the roofs.
The referendum presented two propositions. Proposition one, totaling $6,485,127 included an asphalt fiberglass roof for Weber. If proposition one passed, the voters considered proposition two. This would re-roof Weber Middle School with natural slate, which would last significantly longer than other materials. This would have made the total of the bond $7,639,698.
The results of the vote were: proposition one; no- 1,112/ yes- 784; proposition two; no- 1,069/ yes- 628.
When asked to comment on the results of the vote, School Board President Laura Mogul said, "We knew it would be difficult for people to accept, but we felt we needed to put this work forward as a bond proposition. It was the most fiscally responsible way to proceed." Continuing, she said, "With these results, the board of education will have to consider how to finance the repairs that we identified. It obviously puts a lot of stress on our upcoming budgets."
For the short term, the board will determine which work could be in the operating budget, which requires prioritizing the various projects, according to Ms. Mogul. "Some or all of the work could be brought back at a later date in a bond. The problem is being worked on in two of our board committees, facilities and finance, along with our school administrators," she said.
Interestingly, the annual tax increase was "relatively" low, only $27.50 per year for a home with an assessed valuation of $500,000. This fact leads to much speculation about the reasons the bond went down.
Some taxpayers, the Port News spoke to, felt that the defeat of the bond is a harbinger of a tax revolt, especially because many Port residents were hit hard with the recent Nassau County reassessment, in addition to the annual tax increases that many feel are over the top.
Others felt that if the repairs requested in the bond were so important and presented such a dire need that they should have been included in the $66 milion bond passed in March 2001, or as part of the annual operating budgets. Many of this group of taxpayers whom we spoke to noted that they voted for the $66 million bond three years ago, but did not vote for this one.
Another reader commented that she fully understood the reasons that some residents voted against the bond. However, she voted yes, noting that the money for the repairs won't come out of the areas most voters have problems with (i.e. teachers salaries, benefit plans, etc.). "The kids will be directly affected by this," she said sadly.
Someone who is totally outraged at the taxes in Port, voted yes only because she could not stand looking at the buckets full of rainwater in the school buildings during downpours.
On the other hand, some people with young children, who usually approve school expenditures, said that they simply didn't vote because they assumed it would pass.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon gave the Port News the following statement on the defeat of the bond:
"The poor condition of the school roofs compelled us to try to have them replaced. We knew, too, that we have a responsibility to be as considerate and sensitive to our taxpayers as possible; for this reason, we pared the bond down as much as possible, to absolute essentials. I personally want to thank the community for their consideration of this issue.
"Replacement of the roof for Sousa School was specified in the secondary or "B" list of the large construction bond. Because of my dual emphasis on educational excellence and taxpayer accountability, I'm recommending that we use construction bond funds to replace these two roofs, without appropriation from the general fund. My strong preference is to fund it this way rather than to ask taxpayers for additional dollars."