HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Voters have approved a $35.4 million referendum - partially funded by the state - that will pay for repairs at the school district's nine buildings by an overwhelming margin of 68 percent.
The vote was 3,019 for and 1.337 against. The vote count is unofficial, and does not include absentee or provisional ballots, which will be counted later in the week.
Turnout was light, with a total of 4,356 votes cast, representing 15.52 percent of the 28,073 registered voters in Hillsborough. The township's 33 voting districts were consolidated into eight polling places for the referendum vote.
Judy Haas, school board president, said members of the board and school administrators were elated with the outcome.
“I am thrilled that the community came out to support our schools. We are excited to move forward to improving the quality of life for our students and staff and look forward to getting this work done as efficiently as possible," Haas said."Working with the community to communicate the details regarding this referendum has been a pleasure and the administration looks forward to continuing that communication as the exciting process of repairing, replacing, and reviving takes place," she added.
The board of education and school district administrators had coordinated an active public education campaign in favor of the referendum, with more than two dozen events and forums as well as facility tours that began Oct. 30th, concluding the night before the Dec. 10th vote at a Board of Education meeting.
The referendum read:
"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."
Approval of the bond referendum will allow the district to authorize an architect to begin the drawings for the construction bid documents. This design phase will likely last through spring/summer of 2020, depending on the project, according to Callahan.
Bid development and awarding of contracts should begin in spring of 2020, with construction projects beginning in the summer of 2020. It is estimated that the construction phase will primarily occur during the summer of 2020 and 2021. The work will be spread over two summers to minimize impact on students in classes and to allow for summer programs, Callahan added.
The district will finance $35.4 million dollars in a twenty-year bond, however special state aid will cover 40 percent, roughly $14.1 million, according to Callahan.
"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," Callahan said.
"The New Jersey Department of Education has determined that substantially all of our projects are eligible for State funding in the form of Debt Service Aid," Callahan said. "Debt Service Aid is an annual payment from the State to offset the bond payment. This payment is made each year over the life of the bond issue to cover a portion of the cost of principal and interest due each year.
" For example, for every dollar spent to repay the bonds, the NJDOE will pay between 34 and 40 cents on that dollar with local taxes paying between 60 and 66 cents," Callahan explained.
While the State has committed to pay 40 percent, in recent years it has only funded 34 percent in the State’s budget so in our tax projections, we are assuming the lower, 34 percent to be conservative," Callahan added.
This was the second schools referendum in Hillsborough this year. On March 12th, voters defeated a referendum that would have instituted all-day kindergarten and provide additional funding for the district to pay off debt service.
That vote was 4,592 against and 3,123 to approve, a margin of 59.52 percent to 40.48 percent.
A link on the board of education website outlines the scope of the projects at each of the nine school buildings, tax impact, and addresses frequently asked questions - https://www.htps.us/repair_replace_revive.