EDITORIAL: Spa school referendum timing is bad; project is good

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

It’s the middle of December 2020.

That means last-minute holiday shopping. On top of getting ready for winter. On top of covid. On the heels of an exhausting presidential election.

And now voters in the Saratoga Springs school district can add to that list deciding the fate of a multi-year, $129.7 million capital project.

You really can’t say much about the district’s timing of this referendum. But if you’re a taxpayer in the district and you care about local education and taxes, you don’t have any choice but to ramp up your knowledge of this project and make time to vote today.

The so-called “Legacy Project” would pay for a variety of long-overdue improvements in school buildings, including more secure building entrances, roof reconstruction, replacement windows and doors, structural work, furniture upgrades and cafeteria renovations.

One might automatically balk at a $130 million price tag for improvements. But all the pieces of the project are integrated and based largely on improvements to specific buildings over several years, so it would be difficult to break them up.

And while $130 million seems like a big hit, the project wouldn’t necessarily be a big hit on district taxpayers.

For one, it’s timed so that the debt created for the project would replace debt being retired by the district – making it a wash in terms of the immediate tax impact.

But residents are losing out on the tax benefits of retiring the old debt.

The project also relies on about $81.3 million in state aid at a time when the state is facing a major, multi-year deficit.

Tim Hilker, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said Monday the district has “reasonable assurances” that building aid would come through for a voter-approved capital project, as building aid is in a different category than other annual aid that schools districts receive.

Regardless, he said, if some state aid doesn’t come through, the district won’t burden taxpayers, but instead might have to consider alternatives such as scaling back the scope of the project, seeking additional funding sources or extending the project over a longer period.

The project has been in the works for several years. The needs are real, and it appears the district has the funding in place to pay for them without overburdening local taxpayers.

Don’t let the distractions of the season keep you away from this important proposition. We encourage voters to vote yes when they go to the polls today.

Voting takes place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the district’s six elementary schools. For more information on the project, visit

https://www.saratogaschools.org/district.cfm?subpage=1394741.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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