MADISON — The Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to recommend borrowing up to $89.5 million for a school renewal project and $15.9 million for the conversion of the former Academy School building to a community center.
The bonds would be paid off over 25 years. First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons estimated that the cost to the taxpayers would average of $181 per $100,000 of assessed property value per year — $28 for the Academy School bond and $153 for the bonds associated with the school renewal plan — taking into account expected reimbursement from the state.
The cost would be highest between 6 and 10 years out from the time of the bonding, when the cost would be $239 per $100,000 per year.
The Academy School Bonding and School Renewal Project, as well as the sale of the Island Avenue School, are anticipated to go to voters in a referendum in February of 2022.
Lyons stressed that the town’s mill rate is determined by many other factors, and that the town would do its best to keep taxes at “very reasonable levels.” She said that the town is sometimes able to use its excess fund balance to lower taxes, and that federal coronavirus relief funds would help reduce next year’s capital budget.
In addition to the new elementary school, the school renewal plan includes closing Jeffrey and Ryerson Elementary Schools and the Town Campus Learning Center, converting Brown Intermediate School into a kindergarten to fifth grade school and renovating Polson Middle School.
In 2018, the town commissioned consulting firm Great Blue to survey town residents about what they wanted to see done with the former Academy School building, which was vacated in 2004. The survey found that 59 percent of town residents were in favor of a community center, the only proposal with majority approval.
In a presentation to the Board of Selectmen on November 8, the firm Colliers International estimated the cost of building the community center at $15 million.
Lyons explained that the bonding amount rose to $15.9 million in order to account for the cost of installing geothermal energy for the building. She said that the building would cost $200,000 in staffing and $135,000 in utilities and maintenance each year. However, she said, that did not take into account the use of geothermal, which she said would hopefully lower the cost of energy.
Lyons said that, while the bond for the school is authorized for up to $89.2 million, the school district expects to receive $10 million in state reimbursement for the building of the new elementary school. She also said there was a possibility of applying for state grants to help with the cost of the community center.
“This is just authorizing a cap of what we can bond for,” said Lyons. “It’s just giving us the authority to go out and bond for a certain amount of money.”
Bonding versus the undesignated fund
The Board also voted 3-2 to recommend an appropriation of $1.3 million from the town’s undesignated fund to pay for the purchase of the Janssen property on Mungertown Road, which will become the site for the new elementary school.
Selectmen Bruce Wilson and Noreen Kokoruda voted against the motion, suggesting that the $1.3 million be added to the bonding package rather than come from the undesignated fund. Wilson said this would free up the $1.3 million to place toward other projects in the town.
Kokoruda said that she felt the including the cost as part of the bonding was more transparent for the taxpayers than taking the money from the undesignated fund. She also pointed to the value of using that money for other things.
“We’ve got some really tired town buildings, and I know there’s some not for profits that really need some help,” said Kokoruda. “When the time comes for us to sit down with them, it would be nice to have that 1.3 million.”
Board of Education Chair Seth Klaskin pushed back against Kokoruda’s comments on transparency.
“It seems to me that if one of the major concerns about this property purchase is whether or not there was transparency … I would argue that there have been many months of debate about the purchase of this property, specifically relating to how it would fit in with the school renewal project,” he said.
Lyons said that the town would have to take the $1.3 million out of the undesignated fund to pay for the property no matter what, because of the timing of the sale. She said that adding the money onto the bonding package as a way of paying back the town would ultimately end up costing the town more in interest from the bonding.
Currently, Lyons said, the town has $8 million more in the undesignated fund than they are required to have by regulation. She added that the sale of the former Island Avenue School to Our Lady of Mercy Preparatory Academy, if it passes in the referendum, would add an additional $2.3 million to the fund.
There will be a special town meeting on December 20 at Polson Middle School to discuss and vote on the appropriation of the $1.3 million for the Janssen Property.