An Affordable School Bond
By Bob Zahm
Enrollment in the Rye City School District has hit an historic high and is predicted to continue rising. That’s great validation of the value of a Rye education. And the accompanying inflow of new residents reflects the value Rye real estate is for people who can afford the price of entry.
Of course, with increased enrollment comes increased need – more teachers, materials, and facilities. The Rye Board of Ed has proposed addressing part of these needs by submitting a $20 million bond and a High School/Middle School construction program to Rye taxpayers for approval.
Information about what the proposed bond is to buy is available on the District’s website. This includes a forecast showing the new debt’s expected impact on the “average” homeowner in increased property taxes of about $315 per year or $6,000 over a 20-year period. For Rye newcomers, that’s probably not a big deal. For residents living on a fixed income, that may be a real challenge.
The District’s forecasts are rendered in black and white, but options for reducing the bond cost to taxpayers are nowhere to be found. Beyond rejecting the proposed bond, two primary options come to mind.
The first option is to revise the proposed construction to build only what is needed, in the most affordable way possible. The planned addition is expected to cost $15.6 million for 12 classrooms, about $1.3 million each. That’s more than the assessed value of the proverbial “average” Rye home. Does the building need to be built to permit a potential third floor? Probably not, but in the rush to get a bond to the public, paring back construction to essential needs has not taken place. And cost reductions certainly won’t be made once the bond is approved.
The second option is to use some of the District’s increasing cash reserves to pre-pay a portion of the bond, instead of asking taxpayers to re-pay all of it with additional taxes. This has to be done carefully to avoid losing what little NY State construction aid is available. But with reserves rising $3.6 million last year to a total of $15.9 million, there is clearly room to pay a significant portion of the “one-time” cost of the proposed bond from reserves. And, given reserve growth of more than $2 million in each of the last three years and a net reduction only once in the last ten years, this practical use of reserves would not threaten the District’s financial stability.
Using just half of the reserves would reduce future bond-related tax increases by about 40%. That’s a trade off that respects Rye City taxpayers while also meeting the facilities needs of our students and teachers. It also makes addressing the other enrollment growth-driven spending needs more financially manageable for our community.
Some may think the reserves should be used to pay for the athletic facilities work pulled out of the original construction proposal. Using reserves to pay for a new field house and turf field would need to be approved as part of the annual budget vote. That is how the Milton gym was funded. But it would be far more transparent to have a separate vote for the use of reserves as is possible with the proposed HS/MS bond. It would certainly allow for the public to directly indicate its priorities.
Clearly, there is a need for additional classroom space at the High and Middle schools. But rather than asking “Is this the right bond for Rye?”, how about asking “How can the bond be made affordable for Rye?”
Dogs Belong on Leashes
I run several days a week early in the morning. After too many close encounters with unleashed dogs coming out of nowhere and having to break my pace, I gave up on using Rye Town Park as part of my course.
A few things about dogs in the park occur to me. How can owners clean up if they are not even in sight of their dog? What will they do if their unleashed dog causes an injury? On rainy or cold days, some owners sit in their car reading the paper while their dog goes for a run. A month ago, I just missed one when driving north on Forest Avenue.
Dogs belong on leashes when on public property for the safety of all.
Sending the Wrong Message
As Mayor, I normally do not write letters to the editor, but given the full-page “Send a Message” paid advertisement run in the last issue of this paper attacking Rye’s representatives with innuendo and false claims, the standards of public discourse in Rye have changed – albeit hitting a new low.
In a quest to develop the island off the coast of Greenhaven — against the wishes of the Hen Island property owners association — a Purchase resident continues to make unsubstantiated environmental complaints against its owners under a banner called Heal the Harbor. The Westchester County Health Department regularly tests the Long Island Sound in and around Hen Island and those tests continue to show that water quality meets the County’s health standards and there are no violations of any regulations. The County and the Courts have ruled that no action is required with respect to mosquito control. Finally, the seasonal cottages on Hen Island are not considered permanent dwellings under the New York State Building Code, and are therefore compliant with potable water requirements.
However, the Purchase resident continues his assault on Rye – four years running now — in hopes of developing the Island by exercising an easement for an underground sewer line from the coast of Greenhaven to the Island. To do this, he has tried to pressure and embarrass representatives of the Rye City Council and particularly the women – by publishing and displaying rude, mocked-up photos. While that is his right, it is not reflective of the values of our community and the examples we seek to set for our children. He has tried to intimidate my family and neighbors by towing and leaving his distastefully decorated van in front of my home at all hours of the day and night. He has shown great disrespect to our community as his van and crude costumed-character parade in our downtown, in front of our businesses, churches, the Square House, and City Hall.
His latest approach is to again seek to propel his personal agenda against Rye’s mayor — whoever is serving, by making false claims and broadly spreading misinformation — this time about home improvements done on my rental property, some of which took place prior to my purchase of the home in 1992. Anyone who sells a home goes through the process of updating the building department files where necessary.
The most important message is: the City Council is all about representing Rye, and will continue to do its work focusing on the issues that are important to and in the best interests of you, the residents of Rye.
Mayor Doug French
A Heartfelt Thanks to Voters
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the voters of Rye for their support on Election Day. We are pleased that our message of open and transparent government, fiscal responsibility, and strong independent leadership resonated with our neighbors. We are proud that we ran and maintained a positive campaign that focused on the issues.
We look forward to serving and working hard for you. While the absentee ballots must still be counted at this time to determine if Rafael prevails in the race for third place, no matter what happens, we are all grateful for the chance we had to meet you out and about in this lovely community that we all call home.
Laura Brett, Rafael Elias-Linero, and Joe Sack