The Truth About the $49 Million Belleville Schools Referendum

Belleville resident and professional contractor challenges the cost estimates of the upcoming voter referendum to renovate the school district

 

 

To the Editor,

On November 7, 2017,  Belleville voters will be asked to vote on a $48.5 million bond issue to fund renovations and improvements to our school facilities. While we all want the best for our children and community, we must know the real facts of what we will be paying for.

According to documents given to the public at the July 2017 BOE meeting, the breakdown of costs are as follows. The actual construction costs are $37.8 million. “Project Costs”, which are payments for architects, lawyers,  and consultants are a whopping $10.7 million. The interest on the bond for a 20-year term is $21.3 million, and for a 25-year term the interest is $29.1 million. Simple math tells you funding this bond for 20 years will cost taxpayers $69.8 million, and for 25 years the cost will be $77.6 million.

Who will benefit from this bond? The architects, attorneys, consultants and banks will receive between $32 million and $39 million in fees and interest.

As a volunteer on the “Schools Facilities Committee”, I received the “Facility Needs Assessment Study“. This study lists many projects that can and have been done by our excellent in-house maintenance staff. Also, there are many items that are, in my opinion as a contractor for 45 years, grossly inflated.

For example, replacing the TWO cast stone treads at the front entrance to the high school, $15,000.

 

Belleville High School entrance steps

 

To replace three concrete sidewalk slabs along Belmont Ave. (school #4), the estimate is $5000.

 

School #4 concrete walks

 

A small brick wall, 18″ high on the Belmont Ave. side of school #4 is proposed to be replaced for $20,000. It is doubtful if this small wall is needed at all.

 

School #4 brick retaining wall

 

Another proposal is to replace all ceiling tiles in the high school corridors at a cost of $351,000, even though the report states the tiles are in fair condition.

 

Belleville High School ceiling tiles

 

This is also a project, that if needed, can and has been done by our maintenance crew, saving us architects, contractors and interest costs.

We are told that the state will be paying for 49% of the debt. But, there is a caveat, the state aid will be “subject to annual appropriations”. That means that if state budget revenues do not materialize as anticipated, our state aid can be denied. This has been done MANY times, as you may remember. Our BOE Trustees have complained when our state aid was reduced. The state pension system has not been fully funded when state revenues were deficient. Homestead rebates and senior citizen programs were cut or reduced when the sales tax and the income tax did not raise the anticipated revenue.

If the state does not keep its commitment to share funding of this bond, guess who will be paying the entire costs? The over taxed residents of Belleville.

We are told we cannot do many of these things within our $66 million school budget. But our BOE Trustees surely find the cash to fund over two dozen administrators with salaries ranging from $130,000 to $195,000. They recently rewarded our Superintendent with a huge raise, increasing his paycheck to over $225,000.

We must defeat this bond and send our BOE Trustees the message that we want good and safe school facilities, but this excessive bond is too large an undertaking. A smaller proposal to address emergency matters first, must be presented to the taxpayers. We did that two years ago when we replaced the boilers in the middle school and school #8. We clearly knew what we needed and what we were paying for.

Vote NO on this bond and force our BOE Trustees and Administration to present a more frugal, efficient, and affordable proposal.

 

Vincent J. Frantantoni
129 Mt. Prospect Ave.
Belleville, NJ 07109
973-964-7105
frantan39@aol.com

 

 

The image excerpts used in this letter were taken from the district’s Facility Needs Assessment Study document presented by architectural firm Dicara Rubino.

For more information on the upcoming Belleville schools health and safety referendum, please visit the official Referendum Information page.

 

 

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Lee “Griff” Dorry – Founder, watchdog, and public advocate.
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