Split Board sends building referendum to Somerset voters
The vote by the Somerset Board of Education on whether to propose a building referendum boiled into a discussion on whether the Board should be considering the short-term or long-term needs of the School District.
After a considerable amount of wrangling on the discussion, the Board decided, on a 4-2 vote, to send a $35.4 million referendum to the voters of Somerset for the April 1 election.
The referendum will ask voters for approval to build a new high school in the School District. The price tag was knocked down by $900,000, when the Board decided to include a 700-capacity physical education gym instead of a 2,000-capacity event gym in the project.
Voting in favor of the referendum were Alison Klis, Tim Witzmann, Sharon Germain and Brian Moulton. Opposed to the referendum were Marie Colbeth and Catherine Cranston. Mike Connor was absent from the meeting.
The Facilities Committee of the School Board has been working for several months to narrow down the decision on how to propose the referendum. Colbeth, who is not a member of the committee, questioned nearly every facet of the referendum during Monday's Board meeting.
First, Colbeth asked why the Board is looking out seven to 10 years.
"All we hear is why didn't we plan more into the future," answered Moulton, referring to past District referendums.
The question was brought up about adding onto the current District buildings.
"I can't see adding onto the Elementary School and making it larger. Seven hundred (students) is pretty much maxing out an elementary school," Germain said. "The taxpayers want us to get it right. They don't want us coming back to them every two years."
Witzmann, the Facilities Committee chairman, said there is an immediate need for space that will continue to worsen.
"My job as a School Board member is to look long-term at what's best for the District," Witzmann said. "Our community has supported the schools strongly. We have to put (the decision) in their hands and will see what they will support."
The plan is to sell the referendum bonds in three installments, which will spread the tax impact over three years.
Information was supplied for when the proposal was for $36.4 million. At that level, on a $200,000 home, property taxes were scheduled to increase by $164 for each of the next three years, for a total tax impact of $492.
District Administrator Randy Rosburg said the average home in the School District is valued at $217,000.
Board members said it was not an easy decision to ask for this referendum figure. Cranston and Colbeth voted against the referendum proposal, saying they couldn't "in good conscience," ask the taxpayers for this much money at this time.
Witzmann said it is up to the Board members to show the members of the community the needs within the District and to let them make an informed decision.