Taking a closer look at the capital project
With a possible capital project to move Townsend Elementary to the main campus of the Walton Central School District, many questions have emerged from the community. That is highly understandable in this situation, especially because it is in the early stages. We wanted to take a look at some of the questions that are coming in so far.
How much will this project cost?
It's estimated to be between $20-24 million. Though that is a lot of money, it's highly affordable to the district. Several bonds from past projects are about to be paid off, which will allow the district to afford this project without raising taxes.
How is that possible?
New York State provides building aid to districts that undergo capital projects. That aid is based on the district's wealth. New York will reimburse 86 percent of Walton's expenses for a capital project. So, spreading the payments of the $20-24 million over several years, and subtracting the state building aid Walton will receive, taxpayers end up paying $400,000 per year in the "local share."
That is the same amount taxpayers are paying for current bond payments, so Walton can undertake this capital project for no additional taxpayer dollars by simply continuing to pay the "local share" already being paid.
Why not use that $400,000 elsewhere?
Simply put, we're not allowed to spend that money on positions or educational programs.
The school budget is divided into several parts. One of those is the general fund, which is the part used to pay for the day-to-day operations at the school. This is the budget that Walton residents vote on every year.
The part of the budget that pays for a capital project, such as the new elementary school, is the capital fund. It's separate from the general fund and is funded with money we borrow through bonds. We then repay those bonds through the general fund.
Keep in mind that a few years ago, the state passed a tax cap law. That law only allows a school district's ability to use the "local share" money taxpayers to pay for capital projects. So, if voters approve a new tax for a capital project, the tax cap allows that new tax to be added on to taxes in the district, which had been done in previous capital projects.
However, when the district stops paying for a bond, the tax cap forces the district to lower taxes it collects by the amount the voters were paying. So, once we stop paying the "local share" on our bonds, that money comes off the tax rolls. It can't be used to pay for any educational programs unless the voters approve a tax that is above the tax cap, which requires a 60 percent supermajority.
What are the school's choices when the bonds are paid off?
We have three choices -- pass a new capital project and continue to use the current "local share," do nothing and lower taxes by the amount taxpayers were paying for the old bonds, or try and get a supermajority to allow the district to use the "local share" for educational purposes.
The "local share," though, is enough to allow the district to solve the long-standing problem with Townsend Elementary, and the Board of Education is of the opinion that the district is in a good position to move forward with this capital project.
If the project didn't happen this year, and then it was decided to go ahead with a capital project in future years, the "local share" will have to be added to taxes. So taxes will go down some, then back up. This doesn't make a lot of sense, particularly because a long-term solution needs to be found for the flooding issues at Townsend Elementary.
What happens to Townsend Elementary?
The students and staff, along with anything that can be used at the new building, will move to the main campus on Stockton Avenue.
The blueprints are in the preliminary phase and could change, but at the moment, Townsend would be attached to the back of the current high school building. It will run along the back side of the school, and go out toward the current soccer and field hockey fields. Parking will be added to accommodate this addition.
As for the current Townsend Elementary building, the district is looking into several avenues for economic development. It is not the plan of the district to leave it as an empty building moving forward.
We are awaiting final approval from the State Education Department. Once they give the thumbs up on the preliminary plans, we will start sending out more information to get the community involved. Townsend Elementary is more than just a building, and we all realize that. Feedback and thoughts from the community will be an important part of this process.
Posted: Tuesday, February 10, 2015