Lincoln to put forth bond vote
LINCOLN — After the Vermont education commissioner in September rejected the Lincoln Community School board’s $3.7 million bond proposal to pay for infrastructure improvements, the Building Committee returned to the drawing board. On Monday evening the board approved a scaled-back, $2 million version of the original proposal.
The bond will go to a vote on Jan. 18, and a public information meeting on Jan. 11, for discussion between the board and Lincoln residents, whose taxes will increase for the next 20 years if the bond is approved.
Following the September rejection, Commissioner Armando Vilaseca agreed to approve a proposal that did not exceed $1.6 million, which would require the Building Committee to scrap its plan to replace the “caboose” section of the building — the temporary trailer that was attached in 2007 for use as additional classrooms. In a letter to the board, Vilaseca explained that the Department of Education is not supporting new construction at any schools, and that this was not a personal attack on the Lincoln school or on the proposal.
In exceeding the commissioner’s $1.6 million mark, the board is still allowed to move forward with its new plan, but the additional costs will not be excluded from the amount that counts toward a school becoming a “gold town.” Schools that have per-pupil spending above a certain threshold pay a penalty to the state.
Principal Tory Riley explained that as of right now, LCS sits well below that threshold. She estimated that the school still has $1,600 of leeway before it needs to be concerned, which she said is significant wiggle room.
“Obviously, the board would never want to go over that limit,” Riley said, expressing the board’s careful consideration of the gold town risk before deciding on the $2 million bond.
According to Riley, the board — that in September was still split on the various renovation options — “was unanimous in their support for going ahead with the full project.”
On Monday night, committee members and architects Andrew LaRosa and John Rahill of Black River Design in Montpelier, presented the new, $2 million plan, which would address the following building, site and educational needs:
-Repair and replacement of mechanical systems, including heating and ventilation.
-Repair and replacement of the building’s envelope, including siding, roof, windows and doors.
-Replacement of the temporary “caboose” space.
-Improvement of traffic flow and the parking lot.
-Centralization of all special services for struggling students.
-New classroom spaces for third- and fourth-grade classes to provide more adequate space and light.
LaRosa and Rahill estimated that the plan that the board hired them to create will come in around $2 million, and that construction would likely begin at the end of the school year next June. The improvements would take roughly nine to 11 months to complete, and would wrap up sometime in early 2012.
Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Business Manager Greg Burdick presented the different bond options and the tax impacts of each at Monday’s board meeting. One option is a Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB), a tax credit bond program that was approved as part of the federal economic stimulus act.
This particular bond would lock Lincoln residents into a 19-year payment cycle, and the payments would remain the same each year. Interest rates on a QSCB currently range from 0.8 to 1.5 percent, according to Burdick, which he compared to the current 3.9-percent interest rate on a normal bond. But with a normal bond, he explained, the payment goes down each year.
If the town acts fast, he said, the LCS might be able to piggyback onto a QSCB that another school in the state has already put in a bid for, which would save around $75,000 in purchase cost.
Burdick then presented a chart that illustrated the tax impact of both a QSCB and a normal, 20-year bond using the estimated $2 million figure. Based on tax estimates for 2009 Vermont households, Burdick showed that at the current tax rate, a resident with a home worth $280,000 and an annual income of $70,000, is paying around $2,010 in taxes for the year. He then tacked a QSCB payment onto the current tax rate and estimated that the same homeowner would pay $2,290 — or an additional $280 a year.
Though the bond payments would not be cheap, Riley and those on the building committee explained that without the renovations, the school will be repaired on an as-needed basis, which could result in the expenditure of even more money of the next several years.
“Even though it is an expenditure now, it is actually more responsible to replace things now, in the context of the project, than to go back to voters in five years when things have deteriorated to the point that they need to be replaced,” Riley said.
Tamara Hilmes is at email@example.com.