Referendum Project Information Hub
Last updated August 16, 2023
This PDF handout contains a complete guide to the Referendum, including photos of where improvements are needed.
Upcoming Important Dates
♦ Referendum Vote - September 26, 2023
♦ Single Issue Meeting - September 24, 2023 - View Live Stream
♦ Single Issue Meeting - July 27, 2023 - View Live Stream
♦ Single Issue Meeting - July 13, 2023 - View Live Stream
This website serves as a primer on the planned referendum project that will be forthcoming in September.
Over the next three months, there will be numerous opportunities to hear about the projects connected to the referendum and why they are necessary. This will be accomplished via Single Issue Meetings and presentations to various groups that are in the process of being arranged.
This site attempts to lay out an explanation of a somewhat complicated process.
Please feel free to review it and when necessary, PUT FORTH ANY QUESTIONS to my office. Your questions will be added to this site along with an answer. Questions or comments should be directed to Interim Superintendent Art DiBenedetto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for allowing me to serve this community and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead of us.
Respectfully, art dibenedetto, Interim Supt.
♦ What is a referendum
A school district referendum gives voters an opportunity to cast a YES or NO vote on a question or questions about capital projects that are needed in the school district. In order to be part of the referendum, the projects put forth by the school district must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Education. All of the projects described in what follows have been approved as part of the district Capital Improvement Plan. In Hopatcong, our Capital Projects relate to construction programs, such as Roof, Window, and Door replacement, Underground Heating Oil Tank replacement, Fire Door and Hardware replacement, Science Lab renovations, HVAC replacement, Paving repairs, etc.
A YES vote on the referendum questions (there are two) allows the board to sell bonds for the approved amount. The sale of the bonds funds the projects and will be repaid over a period of twenty years.
A NO vote on the referendum questions means that the projects cannot be undertaken.
If the first question passes and the second one does not, projects under question one can be undertaken.
If question two passes and question one does not, the entire project must be abandoned.
♦ Will the referendum cost taxpayers the total of $26,787,100 as detailed below?
No! If the referendum is successful, between 32 and 40 percent of the project will be paid by the State of New Jersey via Debt Service Aid. The thirty two percent number is a conservative one and the forty percent number is a best-case scenario.
♦ When will the referendum be held?
There are specific dates put forth by the state for school referendum projects. Our vote will be held on September 26th, 2023. Polls will be open from 6:00am until 8:00pm.
♦ What are the key components of the referendum?
All of the individual projects that make up the total cost of the referendum are listed below. There are two questions planned. The bulk of the cost is in the first question, which includes the following projects:
Question 1 Projects
|Durban Avenue||Underground Heating Oil Tank Replacement||SK1.05|
|Durban Avenue||Exterior Window Replacement||SK1.09|
|Middle School||Underground Heating Oil Tank Replacement||SK2.03|
|Middle School||Exterior Door and Hardware Replacement||SK2.10|
|Middle School||Interior Gym Door and Hardware Replacement||SK2.11|
|High School||Roof Replacement||SK3.03|
|High School||Auditorium Rigging/Safety/Lighting/Sound Upgrades||SK3.19*|
|Middle School||Fire Door and Hardware Replacement||SK2.12|
|Durban Avenue||Exterior Window Facade Replacement||SK1.08|
|Middle School||Unit Ventilators Replacement||SK2.16|
|High School||Stadium Field (Drainage, Sound, Scoreboard)||TBC|
|High School||Hilltop Field Restoration||TBC|
|High School||Gymnasium Floor Repaint, Refinish (Scoreboards / Sound)||TBC|
|Middle School||Window Replacement||SK2.07|
|High School||C Wing Window Replacement||SK3.14|
|High School||C Wing Exterior Masonry Repairs||SK3.13|
|High School||Exterior Window Facade Replacement||SK3.10|
|Middle School||Exterior Basketball Court / Playground / Fencing||SK2.18*|
|High School||Auxiliary Gym Roof Replacement||SK3.04|
|Approximate Debt Service Aid||$9,000,000
This offsets the above figure by $9,000,000
* Sketch not available. All other sketch numbers can be clicked for a PDF of the project sketch.
Question 2 Projects
|Tulsa Trail||Roof Replacement||SK4.01|
|High School||Stadium Fieldhouse Renovations (only project that does not get Debt Service Aid)||TBC|
|Tulsa Trail||Unit Ventilators Replacement||SK4.02*|
|Tulsa Trail||Electrical System Upgrade||SK4.03*|
|Approximate Debt Service Aid||$1,200,000
This offsets the above figure by $1,200,000
* Sketch not available. All other sketch numbers can be clicked for a PDF of the project sketch.
♦ What is the cost of the referendum projects?
The cost of all projects will total $26,787,100. Traditionally, state aid on projects of this nature is between 36 and 40 percent of that cost. This is called Debt Service Aid and it is received yearly as the referendum project costs are paid off.
♦ What is the tax impact to homeowners?
Using conservative Debt Service Aid figures, please note the following:
The tax impact will be approximately $200 a year on the average assessed home of $216,159. The district will seek a twenty-year bond to repay the money if the referendum passes. That amount includes the principal and interest on the bonds.
Those figures are based on a 34% reimbursement on question one and a 31.5% reimbursement on question 2.
Added on August 16, 2023
♦ Are there any programs to assist taxpayer's for the anticipated tax increase?
The State of New Jersey has been running the Affordable New Jersey Communities for Homeowners and Renters program, one that affords property tax relief under the following guidelines.
Applicants must be New Jersey Residents for at least ten years, and lived in the home for which reimbursement is claimed for the last three years, and must meet certain income limits.
The income limits are $250,000 a year for homeowners and $150,000 a year for renters who are also eligible
♦ Will there be a site manager hired to oversee construction and repair?
The nature of the work does not call for the hiring of a site manager for a number of reasons with the main one being that there is no "new construction" in the project.
Additionally, roofing companies that we are in discussion with for possible bids should the referendum pass, have their own site managers who work directly with the district.
♦ Why is Tulsa Trail roof repair on a second question?
As you may recall, the closing of the Tulsa Trail School was an item of heavy discussion during the tenure of the last superintendent. A Feasibility Study was done to ascertain if this was a possibility and the outcome of that study demonstrated that students could be moved to the other three schools and that Tulsa Trail could be sold. That potential move is simply not in the best interest of the students and staff for the following reasons:
- It would require that the seventh grade would have to be moved to the high school and the structure of that building does not allow for a circumstance where seventh graders could be isolated from the older students in the building.
- Whereas the district has a special education population of significant proportion, there are numerous self-contained and Resource Center classrooms that house smaller numbers of students and trying to fit grades two and three into the remaining buildings would mean a significant change in room use that would not be conducive to student success. There are few small group instruction classrooms in the district, so these special students would have to be housed in regular classrooms which would create a challenge in using only three buildings. Additionally, using the few small group instruction rooms would create crowded conditions in those rooms given the size of those classes.
- Between the time that the study was undertaken and the present, enrollment has gone up, albeit slightly. However, it is a fact that there is significant availability of reasonably priced housing in Hopatcong and it is believed that enrollment may continue to increase, further burdening the use of only three buildings.
- Furthermore, if the building was abandoned, and enrollment increased enough that it was once again needed, any lapse in time where it did not have an educational use would cause the need to bring the entire building up to current building codes, and that itself would be very costly in current financial times.
- If the building was abandoned and the district tried to sell it, there would still be a need for roof replacement before a sale could be made, hence its inclusion in the referendum as a second question.
- The Hopatcong district now has free pre-school programs for children in the borough, supported by state funding. At this time, four of the seven classrooms housing pre-school children are out of district in neighboring towns. As this program expands, the use of Tulsa Trail might be an option for housing these children.
♦ Why did the district not take care of some of these issues through the local, yearly budgets?
The last twenty years have been tough ones on the local school district in terms of finances. In 2003, the district had a referendum fail and at that time it actually needed a small amount of additional classroom space. The failure of that referendum had a negative effect on budget approvals in the years after that. Every budget that was voted on after 2003, failed to pass the scrutiny of the voters. In some years, in addition to budgets not being passed by voters, the budget was further cut by the town council which, at that time, had the ability to do so on a failed budget vote. Significant staffing cuts had to be made.
Additionally, during that time, enrollment decrease began and they were significant. Although budgets were no longer voted on, the decreasing enrollment called for more moderate budget design in the district and that reality was quickly followed by state aid cuts. State aid has already decreased from 12 million to four million dollars (rounded numbers) a year and the cuts are not finished.
Given the state aid cuts, the failed budgets, and decreasing enrollment, the district was in no position to undertake roof, window, and door replacement as well as other items listed in the referendum list.
♦ What is Plan B if the referendum fails?
A failed referendum would put the district into its current status-quo situation. Given state aid cuts that have been widely shared with the public, many of the prior thoughts related to Tulsa Trail and the Hopatcong High School would have to be reconsidered.
Board Resolution for Referendum
The board resolution, passed on June 26, 2023, and official documents relating to the two questions and Interpretive Statement can be found at the following document: