In upcoming bond issues, Guilderland invites you to help decide the area’s future, and your own

We admire the courage of the trustees for the Guilderland Public Library and the Guilderland public schools. Both boards are elected to represent the people of the school district.

Both boards have seen their most recent bond issues for capital improvements go down to defeat.

The library’s bond defeat came in June 2012, after years of planning, postponed during the Great Recession. A $13 million project that would have updated the library and nearly doubled its size was ​defeated​, 3 to 1, by about a quarter of Guilderland’s roughly 22,000 registered voters.

The project failed after a last-minute challenge and robo-call campaign by Republicans, who falsely claimed that the library board had been less than transparent presenting its plans to the public and also called the plan an unnecessary luxury.

The public library follows school-district boundaries, but has its own elected board and sets its own budget.

The school district’s defeat came last October, with 1,317 votes for the project and 1,375 votes against — a margin of just 58 votes. Eight years after the library bond defeat, only 11 percent of the district’s 23,762 voters participated.

The $43 million project would have updated the district’s seven schools — five elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school — with basic building repairs as well as improved safety features and technology.

An anonymous flier issued a few days before the Oct. 16 election urged residents to vote no, calling the items a “wish list” and saying the estimates were inflated.

The flier also stressed the cost of the project, terming it “massive” and stating, “Bond act will add even more to our high Guilderland school tax bills … BEFORE next years (sic) property RE-ASSESSMENT!”

Here’s where the courage comes in. Preliminary notices this week started going out to Guilderland residents and businesses on the new assessed values of their properties.

We believe the town is doing the right thing to undertake town-wide property revaluation, and urged Guilderland to do so on this page. Such revaluation should take place at least every five years to be sure each property owner is paying his or her fair share of taxes.

Guilderland hadn’t revalued since 2005 — far too long of a gap. The town signed on for cyclical revaluation after unsuccessfully challenging the state-set equalization rate that, in 2017, suddenly raised the taxes of town residents whose homes are in neighboring school districts.

Typically, revaluation raises taxes for about a third of a town’s residents, reduces taxes for another third, and leaves a third at about the same rate. But it can put residents on edge and can be used, as it was in the anonymous flyer last October, to scare voters.

Both the school and library boards decided to hold their bond votes on May 21, the state-set date for school budget votes. This was the right decision. The statewide date was set up during the Pataki administration — each district used to be able to chose its own date — with the idea that more New Yorkers would vote in school elections if there were a common date every year.

Still, voter turnout on the third Tuesday in May has been abysmally low across New York State. Last May’s school budget vote in Guilderland, for example, brought just 1,972, or about 8 percent of, enrolled voters.

The library and school boards are putting up their multi-million-dollar capital projects at the very same time voters will be casting their ballots on multi-million-dollar annual budgets.

These budgets are the only ones that voters get to decide on. Towns and counties in New York levy taxes without public votes so the schools and libraries are already under pressure convince voters to support them.

Both the library and the school district are holding meetings to inform the public of their plans. We urge you to attend. We’ve been reporting on their plans as they’ve been developed and you can also inform yourself by reading our articles at www.AltamontEnterprise.com.

The library wants to update its 26-year-old building and expand it by about a quarter of its size, building an addition for a larger children’s room, creating a separate teen room for the first time, adding meeting rooms, adding a café near the entrance, reconfiguring the parking lot to slow traffic and make the lot safer for pedestrians, and making the library more comfortable and attractive throughout.

The school district has cut last October’s $43 million proposal to a $31 million plan, a reduction of 28 percent. Director of Facilities Clifford Nooney said the district is lowering the project cost in two ways:

— By reducing costs through reengineering, redesign, or adjusting cost estimates; and

— By delaying or deferring needed work, in part or in full, into the future.

Last week, our Guilderland reporter, Elizabeth Floyd Mair, took a tour with Nooney to see firsthand some of the repairs and upgrades being proposed in the May 21 vote. Her lengthy account with many pictures is available online for those who missed it in print.

We urge taxpayers to inform themselves. It was easy, for example, for a politician just before last October’s vote to deride a new phone and public-address system as not being safety features the way, say, metal detectors would be.

But, as Nooney explained to our reporter, the current communications systems are a “mishmash” of “different systems, different ages,” some with no-longer-manufactured parts for repair.

With the proposed new system, Nooney explained, if the high school principal wanted to do a lockdown but allow only members of the Guilderland Police Department to swipe into the school’s locked doors, he could set those parameters with a push of a button on an application on his cell phone.

“Fast, effective communication is one of the key security components,” Nooney said.

The school board is holding a community question-and-answer period about the $31 million project on March 12 before finalizing its plan on March 19.

Here’s your chance to find out what you’ll be voting on and to make your views known.

“I think we’re a board that encourages people to come. We’re receptive to people’s ideas,” said school board member Gloria Towle-Hilt after the October bond defeat. “But, when it’s done that way at the last minute, it’s hurtful. It hurts the kids. We’re talking about roofs and paving here, and safety issues.”

The district has set aside $3.1 million for the $30.6 million project and estimates state aid will cover $22.5 million. That would leave a person with a $326,000 home — the median price in Guilderland — paying $65 annually in taxes for the 15-year life of the bond.

We’re not saying those of you who live in $365,000 homes can afford $65 more a year in taxes (the amount, of course, would go up or down with the value of the property) or even that you should support this project.

What we are saying is you should inform yourself so that you know what is at stake. And then, most importantly, you should vote. Certainly, more than 8 percent — the percentage of eligible voters that cast ballots last May — or 11 percent — in the October vote — should be deciding on our future.

The trustees on the library and school boards have done their part in developing and presenting the plans. Now we, the voters, must do our part. Public trust works both ways.

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