Education

Voters Say No to School's Capital Improvement Plan

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Aldo Mazzaferro, director of project development for ECG Engineering, explains the energy performance improvement projects to the Mahopac Board of Education. Credits: Bob Dumas
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MAHOPAC, N.Y.— A referendum to repair school roofs and make energy improvements throughout the district’s buildings was turned down by voters last week by just 15 votes.

Voters went to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 15, and voted 140-125 to reject the $8 million capital-improvement project even though school officials said it would have been done without borrowing money or raising the tax rate.

School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Creedon said he took “full responsibility” for the measure’s defeat, believing he failed to get the message out and explain the project more clearly.

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“We posted it three times [in newspaper legals] and Mahopac News wrote about it,” he said. “We did some presentations and created a video. Some people even put up road signs. But we didn’t publicize it enough.”

Creedon said he believes most district residents were in favor of the plan but didn’t come out to the polls because they were unaware of the vote that day.

“People who called us said they didn’t know the vote was taking place but they supported the project,” he said.

Creedon also said the torrential rains that fell that day could have also suppressed voter turnout. However, those who opposed the project, for whatever reason, made a concerted effort to make it to the polls.

“Remember last year we still had one-third of the people voting ‘no’ on the budget even though there was hardly any tax rate increase,” he said.

The proposed capital projects included two components. The first was a series of energy performance improvements (known as an energy performance contract, or EPC) to several schools throughout the district, including the addition of solar energy. The second was a roof replacement project for three schools.

The overall cost of the EPC would have been about $4.2 million. The first year’s savings was projected to be $261,527, plus $108,137 in state aid. The district would have made a debt payment of $337,361 and paid $8,078 for annual solar PV panel maintenance. It would have resulted in a positive annual cash flow of $24,225, which translated to a $1.3 million positive cash flow over the 18-year term of the deal. Ameresco, the energy service company that put together the EPC, had guaranteed the savings and would have reimbursed the district if the savings had not been realized.

The roof project called for repairing roofs at Austin Roads and Lakeview elementary schools, and a portion of the high school. The projected cost of the roofing project was $3.7 million. State aid would have covered 42 percent of the project, leaving about $1.55 million for the district to pay. But last May, voters approved a measure allowing the district to create a capital reserve account that could not exceed $2.5 million or last longer than five years. The district currently has about $1.37 million in that reserve account, money that came from unexpended reserves. District officials said more money was to be added to that capital reserve without necessitating an increase in the tax levy.

“The size of it worried some people,” Creedon said of the “no” vote. “And there are multiple parts to the bond issue [on the ballot] and some were confused by it.”

Creedon said the Board of Education and district administrators plan to put the referendum back before the voters—most likely next May during the budget vote and school board trustee elections. In the meantime, he said, the district plans on doing a better job of educating residents on what the project is all about, how it will be financed, and why it won’t raise taxes.

“We will be looking at a different format and make sure we have included it in the budget presentations to PTO and to families, and send reminders out,” he said.

Creedon also said he felt the district’s website could have done a better job of presenting and explaining the project and he’d consider changing that.

If the referendum had passed, district officials had hoped to begin the project next year. Now, even if it is approved during next May’s election and budget vote, it will be significantly delayed.

“It will push the project back because even if passes [in May] it has to go back to the state’s review committee for its OK and that’s a lengthy process,” Creedon said.

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