North Stonington officials push for $40.5M school plan

North Stonington - Town officials made a final pitch Monday for a long discussed, and now whittled down, multimillion-dollar school improvement project in anticipation of next week's referendum vote.

Voters will be asked on June 23 to vote on a $40.5 million project that revamps the elementary, middle and high school, adding space, bringing buildings up to code and addressing security, technology, environmental problems such as PCBs in window caulk, structural cracks in the walls and generally outdated facilities.

Finance board Chairman Dan Spring, among other proponents, said he viewed the project as long overdue and designed to address issues that have built up through years of minimal budget gains.

Spring said the time is ripe considering the town's excellent bond rating, historic low interest rates and generous reimbursement being offered by the state.

"If not now, when?" Spring asked.

Residents will be voting on a project that was reduced in size from the $47.5 million project rejected by voters at a referendum in May.

The project has a guaranteed state reimbursement rate of $14.65 million, making the town's share about $25.8 million or as low as $22.4 million if the town can secure waivers for certain elements of the project.

The immediate tax impact of the project at the higher reimbursement rate would be about 3.69 mills at the start of the project and drop to about 2.06 at the end of the 25-year bond cycle. The average tax-rate increase is 2.92 mills or $488 for the average taxpayer with a home value of $238,770, Spring said.

Literature handed out at Monday's meeting lists a maximum tax rate increase of 4.08 mills.

About 60 people attended Monday's meeting, speaking for and against the project, some passionately.

"Our schools are falling apart," said resident Bernard "Bing" Bartick. "These are our kids. This is a community. I really implore those against this project to reconsider. I understand the tax issues. I'm on a fixed income. But this town's needs are not going to go away. This is going to come back and haunt us."

Resident Brian Rathbun was among others speaking against.

"We all believe in educating our children…but I don't see why it all has to be done at once," Rathbun said. "I can't support a big project like that."

Voting will take place June 23 with polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

g.smith@theday.com

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