Will the third time be the charm? That’s the question buzzing around the Carmel Central School District as a bond vote — the third in as many years — will be posed to voters next Tuesday.
The bond is separated into two proposition: proposition A would fix failing roofs, make all the buildings adhere to the American with Disabilities Act and enhance the George Fischer Middle School Library to the tune of $16.6 million. Proposition B would place a new transportation garage on a parcel in the Town of Kent, moving it from the Kent Elementary School property, which would cost $10.9 million. Because of New York State aid, if the projects are approved by voters, Carmel taxpayers would be on the hook for about $14 million overall if both measures are voted through.
This will be the third time school district voters need to go to polls over a bond package presented by the district. The first bond vote — an $85 million proposal — was in 2017 and was shot down overwhelmingly. The second bond vote last year — a more modest $25 million package — was also defeated, that time narrowly.
The bus garage has become a contentious aspect of the bond because it would take a piece of taxable land off Kent’s town rolls. Even Kent officials, including and most notably Supervisor Maureen Fleming and Councilman Paul Denbaum, have expressed either skepticism or downright disapproval with that plan leading to tension between the Kent town board and Carmel school board.
During a board meeting last Tuesday, residents and board members had their final say before the voters go to the polls this week. Supporters of the bond, including most school board members, have argued the fixes are necessary to sustain the buildings and the new, proposed location for the bus garage is a far better placement than the current situation.
Kent resident Robert Andrews said the board was “beating a dead horse again” by putting up another referendum up for voters to decide whether or not to buy a new bus garage. He asked why the school system can’t use a piece of land already owned by the district. He argued all the facts are being provided to voters before they cast their ballot.
“You’re acting like a bunch of spoiled children and you’re going to keep beating the drum until you get your way,” Andrews said.
It was revealed the school district has paid about $100,000 to the property owner in Kent to hold the parcel the school system hopes to buy for the bus garage.
Patterson resident Robert Leonard, who was on the original bond committee, said the bond should be supported and those that don’t support it don’t have the necessary information. A lot of research went into finding the right parcel of land for the bus garage, he said. The current bus garage has conditions that are subpar, Leonard added.
“I just wish the public would educate themselves,” he said. “There’s a lot of good stuff going on here and something worth doing I think.”
Former Carmel school board member Eric Mittelstadt, of Holmes, said the air quality at the current bus garage is poor and unhealthy for students and staff to breathe in. Whatever happens with the fate of the bus garage, an air study should be conducted, said Mittelstadt, who supports the bond package.
In an interview, school board vice president Rick Kreps said going into the vote next week, he believes there is solid support for proposition A, but believes proposition B, which would move the bus garage, is more of a toss-up. He said he supports both measures because they are necessary fixes the district must get done.
If either or both propositions fail, Kreps doubts the board would attempt to push the measures any further.
“Definitely the bus garage,” he said. “This is like the last hurrah.”
Carmel school board member John Curzio, who has been the sole voice of dissent against the repackaging of the bond, said at the meeting the cost to put the first two bonds up has been about $38,000 and then another $89,000 on services from firms that helped present the bonds to the public.
Curzio added that the board should not “belittle” people as uneducated because there is a difference of opinion on the bond vote. He said people on both sides of the debate have valid thoughts.
Board president Greg Riley said no one on the board has belittled anybody, though Curzio said it’s been done “plenty of times in the past.”
“It was voted down twice by the voters,” he said “I’ve made clear that I felt that it was unfortunate that the board was trying to overturn the will of the voters.”
“We’ll see what happen on the March 26,” Curzio continued. “Anything can happen