As a parent of three children in the Nyack School District, as a homeowner and taxpayer in the District for the past 15 years, as one who was born and raised in Nyack by parents who were also both born and raised here, and as a Nyack High School graduate, I feel compelled to publicly express my views in favor of the Nyack Schools Bond Referendum scheduled for a public vote on October 29.
This bond referendum provides our community with $26.4 million worth of essential projects for an actual local budget debt of about $12.4 million ($9 million of the total project cost will be paid by the State and $5 million will come from the Capital Reserve Fund), at a time when interest rates are at or near their historic lows, all with no tax increase at all. It is a home run for all of us.
encourage all those who are not personally familiar with all the facts to use
the resources available to permit a reasoned personal decision based on those
facts. I also urge all those who support the referendum, as I do, to not become
part of a complacent "silent majority" and instead to implement your
support with a positive vote on October 29.
The Bond Referendum is the culmination of a seven-month process through which approximately 40 diverse community members and staff volunteers serving on a Citizens Advisory Committee thoroughly assessed the District's facilities' needs and the feasibility of necessary improvements. These committee members and the School Board did not arrive at some hasty decision to waste our money and damage the environment, as the vocal opponents have been insinuating. No, this dedicated and diverse group of fellow residents and taxpayers did their homework, and then some. The District web site contains the straightforward, content-neutral facts and research underlying the proposal (http://www.nyackschools.org/), including a written list of the projects, a comprehensive Q&A on all issues, etc.
Why Do I Support the Referendum?
1. The capital projects proposed to be funded
are fundamentally necessary. They include improvements to the fire safety
and emergency lighting systems, HVAC systems, technology and security systems,
electrical and plumbing systems, roofing, windows, doors, drainage, flooring, and
athletic fields. We cannot wait any longer to undertake these projects.
2. The proposal completes all these projects, but remarkably will not result in any tax levy increase at all. This is an amazing achievement which will likely never be possible again in the future if we wait.
3. The improvements will have the added benefit to all taxpayers of maintaining or increasing our property values. Put another way, permitting the continued degradation of school infrastructure is a sure way to increase future maintenance, repair, and replacement costs while also decreasing our property values by making the District simply undesirable.
4. Once completed, these capital projects are expected to eliminate millions of dollars of ongoing repair and maintenance costs. This savings directly benefits the annual operating budgets and so frees up that money for future tax relief, educational programming, etc.
How Can There be No Tax Increase and Why is Now the Time for This Project?
Contrary to the innuendo disseminated by the vocal opponents of the bond, the fact is that the bond will simply not result in any tax levy increase. In fact, not passing this bond referendum could very well end up raising our taxes in the short term, as the costs to repair and replace individual projects this bond will pay for would instead have to be paid from the operating budget and, in an emergency situation, will surely cost more.
One might reasonably ask, "How can there be no tax increase?" The "fiscal stars" are aligned for this project right now. If we wait, this opportunity to complete these projects with no tax levy increase will likely be gone forever, particularly given the 2% tax levy cap. Here's why:
1. Existing bonds from years ago are being retired over the next few years and the money being spent on the new projects is coordinated to replace that debt as it is retired, so there is no increase in existing debt service. It's like signing a lease on a new car after the old lease expires, only here, you get to drive a new car for the same price as the old one.
2. The District has already responsibly put aside $5 million in the capital reserve fund for this exact purpose. This is not some contingency or emergency fund not meant to be touched. It is money saved for this purpose precisely. So, $5 million of the $26.4 million budget has already been saved and is ready for this very project right now.
3. The State will pay 37.6% of allowable costs. So, about $9 million of the $26.4 million budget is being paid from Albany. There is no guarantee this money will be available in the future. We need to secure that massive benefit while we can.
4. Interest rates are still at or near their historic lows. While the district has conservatively illustrated the interest rates on these bonds at 4.5%, current bond rates are actually around 3%-3.5% and most bond experts do not forecast bond rates to rise very quickly. Accordingly, the actual costs to borrow on our bonds will likely be even lower than the District has estimated.
Why Do I Support the Upgrade to Turf Fields?
The vast majority of the Bond Referendum is
addressed to funding many necessary capital projects, yet the vocal opponents
focus on the singular issue of the artificial turf. Accordingly, even
though it is only one part of the Referendum, I will address it directly.
There is one thing the vocal opponents cannot reasonably dispute: our fields are a mess and require replacement one way or the other. Our children are forced onto poor, hard, uneven, dangerous surfaces which cause injuries and provide limited availability with increased maintenance costs. So, the choice is between grass or turf. Grass costs only about $900,000 less than turf, but turf provides 2,000-3,000 hours of playability per year while grass provides only between 300 and 816 hours. Think about that for a second - the difference is enormous, and all those drastically increased hours of playability would all be on a pristine turf field without bare spots laced with pebbles, mud puddles, or "ankle breakers" (small hidden holes in the grass).
What About Safety and the Environment?
I encourage anyone with questions about safety or the environment to simply go to the Q&A posted on the District web site, read all the scientific articles cited, and make up your own mind based on the facts. I know I am fully satisfied by what I have read. I have three children, ages 12, 9 and 5 and trust me when I say I would not support something I believed even for a second to be unsafe for my own children, let alone others.
Further, although I am admittedly not an engineer or scientist, I am an environmental attorney. This proposed project was thoroughly reviewed under the rigorous requirements of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"). By law, the School Board members were compelled to thoroughly examine all of the potential adverse environmental impacts of the project. The District received detailed input and involvement from other involved municipalities (including the Village of Upper Nyack whose Board members and engineer participated significantly in the SEQRA process). Our diverse collection of elected School Board members did their jobs: they reviewed the research, took the required hard look at the environmental issues, and unanimously determined that there would be no significant negative impact on the environment.
The Board we have all elected is a truly diverse group in just about every sense, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and different ends of the political spectrum. Despite all their differences, they have one thing in common: they care deeply about our children and our community. They unanimously agreed on this project, which should speak volumes to all of us as to its merits.
I believe the time is now for this project and I hope you agree, but please don't take my word for it, or the word of others. Read the objective, non-biased facts and make up your own minds.