In Port Jefferson, 2017 will seemingly have a dramatic, down-to-the-wire election day just like it did in 2016, though this year it will be held in December instead of November.
The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education voted unanimously in support of a resolution to establish Dec. 5 as the date for the much-discussed and intensely debated $30 million bond referendum that has seemingly created a two-party system within the community: the Pro-Bond Party and the Anti-Bond Party.
Despite objections from some residents at prior board of education and Port Jefferson Village Board meetings, the date for the vote was set for the first Tuesday in December. The resolution to set the date was removed from the eight other items listed in the board consensus agenda under the category of finance after a motion by board Vice President Mark Doyle, so that the resolution to set the date could be voted on as individual item.
“At this moment in time both my husband and I are strongly inclined to vote ‘no’ on this bond, even though it’s great for the kids and the buildings.”
— Renee Tidwell
Those opposed to that date cited the potential absence of a large number of “snowbirds” or Port Jeff homeowners who tend to spend winters in warmer climates, on the date of the vote. The thinking being those residents are likely the same people who no longer have children attending the district, and therefore would be less likely to support the massive spending plan.
“We’ll discuss the best way of getting the word out and try to make the availability [of absentee ballots] a little bit easier than people might otherwise imagine, although it is relatively easy,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the Oct. 10 board meeting, when the date was finalized.
Casciano previously stated during one of the district’s several building walk-throughs, which were scheduled to allow residents the opportunity to tour the facilities slated for upgrades as part of the bond, that the December date was more preferable than attaching the proposition as part of the budget vote in June because the board felt it was important to allow the bond to stand on its own and not be lost as an afterthought to the budget.
Others who have voiced opposition to the bond have expressed concerns with voting on the more than 20 items as an all-or-nothing proposition and urged the board to split it into at least two propositions: one for education and safety upgrades and one for upgrades relating to athletics. The board elected to keep all 23 items and $29,900,000 worth of upgrades and improvements to district facilities intact as a single proposition.
•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS
•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS
•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space
•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS
•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school
•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS
•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields
•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS
•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new central administration headquarters
•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building
“At this moment in time both my husband and I are strongly inclined to vote ‘no’ on this bond, even though it’s great for the kids and the buildings,” district resident Renee Tidwell said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We want to vote ‘no,’ and we’re very troubled by that.”
Tidwell pointed to the inclusion of a synthetic turf football field and stadium lights at the athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road included with health, safety and educational components in one proposition as a reason to vote against it.
“Split the bond into two bonds; one which addresses the urgent and critical capital improvements and infrastructure upgrades, and the other bond which could address less critical initiatives,” Tidwell said, prior to the vote, which eliminated that possibility.
Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister suggested it’s possible the district might have legal ways out of the bond agreement should an extenuating circumstance arise, such as a settlement in the district’s lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority, which could cause the district to lose substantial property tax revenue, prior to borrowing the money. Leister said previously that projects and borrowing would be unlikely to begin prior to 2019.
Based on discussions during several public meetings and conversations taking place on Port Jefferson-related Facebook pages, the community seems to be split down the middle roughly two months away from the vote. Results of a survey that was available on the district’s website are expected in the coming weeks, and Leister has also promised an imminently available property tax calculator so that residents can see about how much the proposal would cost individual households if passed. This tax hike would be unrelated to potential raises as a result of the LIPA lawsuit and/or if next year’s budget were to ask for an increase. Casciano has also promised more walk-throughs, including a virtual tour for those unable to attend in person.