HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Deputy Mayor Doug Tomson recently asked his Facebook followers whether they would vote "yes" on a $35.4 million referendum that if passed would pay for infrastructure improvements and repairs at nine school buildings in the school district.
One day before the Dec. 10 vote, Tomson's post had received 1.742 engagements with about two-thirds of the respondents saying they would approve the referendum.
Tomson, a lifelong resident, graduate of Hillsborough High School and parent of students attending the township schools is the first to admit that his poll is "highly unscientific," but that the results of a similar Facebook poll he posted earlier this year came within two percentage points of predicting the outcome of a March referendum that asked voters to approve All-Day Kindergarten - which was soundly defeated.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday. Several of the voting districts have been consolidated for the special referendum; a list of the revised polling places can be consulted online at https://www.htps.us/repair_replace_revive. The link is a comprehensive look at the details of the referendum, breaking down specific projects at each of the nine school buildings.
If the referendum is approved, it would mean a $42 reduction in taxes after a year for the average Hillsborough residence with a property value of $350,000, according to Michael Callahan, Human Resources director for Hillsborough Schools.
“The quality of life for our students, staff and the community is key and never before has it been more opportune to invest in that quality of life," said Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa M. Antunes.
The nine-member school board approved the referendum unanimously at its Oct. 14th meeting.
The state Department of Education will contribute 40 percent of the cost, approximately $14.1 million, but only if the referendum is approved by voters, according to Callahan.
"The proceeds from the referendum would be utilized to pay for critical infrastructure and capital improvements," Callahan said. "Unlike a previous referendum which failed this past March, Full-Day Kindergarten is not linked to this referendum.
"Additionally there is no consideration for the building of any new school in this referendum," he added.
Officials have been considering construction of a second high school in the township.
All registered voters received a sample ballot in the mail that reads as follows:
THE PROJECTS: In order to ensure a safe, healthy and secure learning environment and provide for facilities infrastructure needs, the Board is seeking to undertake district-wide facility improvements, including, as applicable, heating and ventilation replacement, electrical upgrades and emergency lighting system replacement, masonry improvements, stucco improvements, interior renovations and finishes replacement, roof replacement, asphalt repaving, sidewalk and curbing replacement, air conditioning in certain areas which are currently not air-conditioned, upgrade of security at all schools including secure entry and security vestibule improvements at an aggregate cost not to exceed $35,416,740.
The Board anticipates financing the projects over a 20-year period.
STATE FUNDING FOR THE PROJECTS: The State has agreed to contribute just over $14 million towards the costs of the $35.4 million project. All costs of the projects are available for the highest level of State funding. The State funding will be in the form of debt service aid. The State funding is only available if the Proposal is approved.
Callahan released the following statement on the referendum last week:
"On Tuesday, Dec. 10th, the Hillsborough community will vote on a school referendum focused on addressing critical infrastructure and capital improvements to ensure a safe, healthy, and secure learning environment for the students and staff.
"Projects across the nine schools include roofing, air quality (HVAC), power and lighting upgrades, exterior repairs, and security, etc. This vote comes after the school administration and Board of Education have held over 25 informational meetings across the community to inform about the referendum.
"Additionally, the community has actively used the website that outlines the scope of the projects, tax impact, and addresses frequently asked questions - https://www.htps.us/repair_replace_revive.
"If the referendum passes, the district will finance $35.4 million dollars in a twenty-year bond, however special state aid will cover 40 percent.
"That state aid is not available if the referendum does not pass.
"The district is retiring previous similar debt next year, so after a brief overlap, taxpayers in Hillsborough Township will see a decrease in the debt portion of their taxes.
"Business Administrator, Aiman Mahmoud, noted “If this referendum passes, the taxpayers can take advantage of a 40% off coupon when the state aid kicks in and see that portion of their taxes go down for nineteen out of the next twenty years.
"I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the finances on this just make sense. Also, be reminded that if the referendum does not pass, the district will not receive that 40% coupon”. The polls are open from 6 a,m, to 8 p.m. for the community to cast their votes on Tuesday, December 10th."
A series of public events and forums as well as facility tours have been held over the past several weeks for the benefit of residents to learn more about the planned repairs.