LAKEHURST – School officials are asking the public to vote in favor of a bond question to raise $3 million for the construction of a kitchen and the replacement of the roof at their elementary school.
The vote will be put to residents during the November 7 general election.
There is state aid available to offset the cost to borough taxpayers, officials said. The projects have been submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education for Debt Service Aid. If the public votes yes, the state will fund 72.9% of the project. If the public votes no, the project doesn’t get done and Lakehurst doesn’t get funding.
This debt service aid is only available if the district bonds for their portion of the project. The district is asking the public’s support in borrowing money for the project for a 15-year repayment schedule.
If the school district performed this project using their operating budget, they would not be eligible to obtain the up to 72.9% of State aid to offset local property taxes. The school district has been historically underfunded each year by the State according to school officials.
The Board of Education has been getting information out to voters about the question. They held a presentation during a recent Board meeting.
Only a dozen residents were in the audience to hear the speakers that included Tony Solimine of Wilcentz Attorneys at Law, Robbi Acampora of Phoenix Advisors and Scott Downie and Kristine Adam-ElBouazzaoui of the Spiezle Architectural Group.
Acampora said the impact to taxpayers who currently pay an average of $117 for existing debt would see during the fiscal year of 2025, a one-time increase of $55.56. After that year, the average impact for debt service would decrease to $112.
Should the question fail at the polls, the district would lose access to the potential 72.9% State Aid which – according to the school district’s informational pamphlet – “would greatly reduce the work that can be completed and forfeit the money provided by the State.”
Downie told the Board and members of the audience that the roofing is “close to no longer being under warranty. The time is just about right in addressing this.” The district would need to patch failing roofing sections and plan to replace small areas over the coming years.
The elementary school doesn’t have a kitchen and spends educational funds to bring food into the school on a daily basis, officials said. If the question fails, the food service would continue to divert funds from educational projects and supplies.
If the question passes, third party expenses would be reduced by cooking in house. This would also allow better management of food quality provided to students. It would also reduce the impact on multi-purpose space.
By addressing the concerns now, the Board feels this will allow the district to capitalize project efficiencies and the debt service aid funding.
Business Administrator Joseph Firetto provided a PowerPoint presentation during the meeting which stated that the question results in minimal tax impact due to retiring debt and that improvements are more cost efficient than reacting to leaks and unforeseen repairs.
His presentation also featured photos showing the space that would be utilized for the kitchen as well as the deteriorated conditions of the roof.
The question would reduce the impact on annual maintenance budget, allowing the savings to be used for other district needs. It was noted by Solimine that in the case of additional costs required, “it would be a criminal offense to spend one cent more than $3 million. Anything additional would need voter approval or funds from the capital reserve.”
“Schedule-wise the question is posed for November and if it moves forward the work would be done over the summer. The district would be operational in time for school,” Downie added.
Solimine explained, “for every dollar you borrow the state will cover $72.9% on principal. If you had to incur the cost of the roof and the kitchen all from that general fund budget you would pay 100%. This way you are only paying a portion of that off.”
“The other advantage of this is that it spreads the cost out through the life of the bonds,” he added.