Above: The Town Council discusses the different options.
The Town Council voted 3-2 to approve a school bond referendum cap of $180 million during a special session Monday. The panel needs to submit legislation to the General Assembly now if it is to be approved this session and a bond referendum put before voters this fall.
The actual amount that would go on the bond referendum will not be decided – again by the Town Council – until early August. The $180 million number, if the General Assembly approves the legislation, is the maximum the town could seek to bond under this authorization.
Council President Mark Schwager, Vice President Mike Donegan and Councilor Caryn Corenthal all voted in favor of the $180 million cap; councilors Renu Englehart and Michael Zarrella voted against, preferring a $150 million cap.
The $180 million is higher than had been previously entertained because of legislation being considered by the General Assembly that could boost state school construction reimbursement for East Greenwich to 60 percent or even 65 percent. Under the current reimbursement structure, East Greenwich is eligible for a maximum of 52 percent reimbursement. The increased reimbursement would lower the town’s cost on a $180 million project from $71 million (at 52 percent) to $60 million (at 60 percent) or $52 million (at 65 percent). The General Assembly will decide the fate of those higher reimbursement bills by session’s end, sometime in June.
For Schwager, Donegan and Corenthal, the vote for a $180 million cap would be doing right by local taxpayers, since more of the financial burden of the project would be borne by the state.
“Let’s be honest … we’ve never had the state say they’d pay 65 percent for [what] we need,” said Donegan Monday night. “It’s not like the need isn’t there. So it’s really just how do we do the best for the taxpayers.”
Englehart said she wasn’t comfortable with a $180 million cap partly because the highest number that’s been talked about at the School Building Committee meetings up to now has been $150 million, which she said seemed like a huge amount already. And partly because she would want to reserve some borrowing capacity for municipal projects.
“Just because we have the ability to borrow more doesn’t mean we should,” said Englehart. “Why not take those savings, if it does miraculously come in at 65 percent reimbursement … [and] just use that additional borrowing power on the town side?”
She was referring to the savings the town would receive on a $150 million project with a 65 percent reimbursement rate – the town would be on the hook for $71 million at the current top reimbursement rate of 52 percent; that number would drop to $52 million if the state increased to 65 percent reimbursement.
For Michael Zarrella, the issue was mainly over messaging and a concern that approving such a high cap would turn off voters before a proposal was even completed.
“I’m worried about people making up their minds now,” he said, noting that the worst outcome would be for a school bond referendum to fail. There is precedent for that in East Greenwich; the first Cole Middle School bond failed.
Schwager said voters would remember the bond referendum number, not the cap. That bond referendum number will not be decided until early August, when a construction plan is finalized and has been approved by both the School Committee and the Town Council. (The advisory School Building Committee voted Tuesday, April 4, to pursue an option with two 1-5 schools along with a PK-K school and renovations to the high school, moving the overall project forward but with a significant number of details still needing to be ironed out.)
Donegan stressed a $180 million cap would keep options open while not obligating the Town Council to approve anything it didn’t support.
“It’s not just a blank check to use anywhere, it’s got to be a real proposal,” said Donegan. “We haven’t seen a proposal yet.”
“This is a one-time unbelievable offer. I think we would be foolish not to take advantage of it,” said Corenthal, referring to the potential for higher reimbursements. “It’s free money. Somebody’s going to get it, why shouldn’t it be us?”
Find all the school construction stories HERE.
Free money. Ha!
How about Councilor Corenthal pay the ridiculous increase in our already ridiculous East Greenwich taxes for this proposal. Now THAT would be free money.
$30million + dollars could go a long way towards other town interests: WEST BAY bike path, town pool/aquatics center, combating malignant development (400 new homes on Division at?!!), maintaining the NEIGHBORHOOD schools we already have, updating our parks and infrastructure….and maybe there would even be a little left to close down BOTh lanes of traffic on Main Street during the Strolls. Only takes one child – or adult or pet – to be run over by a car in the opposite lane to cost the town a whole lot of $$$.
Didn’t we vote for councilors to represent their constituents ?!
It is true the town needs other things, However, the bond money can ONLY be used for school construction. Additionally, the state has already set the money aside and if EG doesn’t use it another town will.
On February 15th the options ranged from $21-130 million, 49 days later we’re looking at $150 vs $180 million.
This project will exceed $200 million, mark my words.
At the expense of sounding like those always going on about Sarah’s Trace – is this builder our only option? Why is it this ONE builder bringing options and costs? Why not have different builders bidding different plans so we can get competitive plans and prices? Just seems odd to know there are many ways this construction may be borne, but all will involve this builder and their prices.
Losing a school kids could walk to is a tragedy. Generations in the future will be flabbergasted that we took away a close-knit school kids could walk to in favour of another glass and steel soulless behemoth that kids are bused to.
Joe, no builder has been chosen yet, and it will have to go out to bid once the plans are finalized once and IF this proposal get approved by the taxpayers. Yes, the numbers keep changing, are you surprised?
I am not sure if your comment on Sarah’s Trace is sarcastic or not, unless you find it comical that 3 homes were destroyed with the construction of our last bond project of Cole MS. I can’t imagine an EG resident would think that it is OK for this to happen in any taxpayer sponsored project where everyone benefits except for a few innocent residents. I’m sure it could never happen again, RIGHT! If it was Joe G’s home that was damaged and destroyed, had to go to court and was never compensated, you wouldn’t be the one going on and on and on. So just give it a rest and be thankful it wasn’t your home.