Proposed legislation aims to have all school bond votes occur on the same day as the May election for school board members and operating budgets.
State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) on Monday drafted legislation requiring single-day elections. Bond votes can occur at any time in the school year, an issue that has riled taxpayers this season as they vote on borrowing proposals ranging from $8.8 million to $125 million. For example, Middle Country voted in November, Manhasset in December, and Port Washington taxpayers Tuesday will decide a $70 million bond to cover upgrades to science labs, bathrooms and athletic facilities.
School bond votes "can have a tremendous impact on the debt a given school district is facing and the subsequent taxes," Boyle said in an interview Monday.
Critics of winter bond votes say turnout is weakest then, when seniors are likely on vacation and when residents are paying the least attention to school finances. "You have a very small number of voters deciding what has a great impact on the taxes of a large number of homeowners," Boyle said.
School officials argue that holding bond votes earlier in the year enables districts to beat bureaucratic delays. After a vote, school officials must draft development plans, receive state approval, and publicly bid for developers.
It could take up to 10 weeks for architectural review to be finalized, and 28 weeks for the engineering review to finish, according to the state Department of Education.
Holding the votes earlier in the school year allows districts to more efficiently draft their operating budgets, school officials say. If the proposed work is rejected, officials point out, time is needed to rework budgets to cover those projects.
Port Washington school board member Alan Baer said he worries such a law would create delays in the review process.
"It creates a terrible bottleneck within the system," Baer said Monday. And he worried developers might raise prices for work on the project. "They will know everyone will be desperate to build in a certain amount of time."
Boyle said he filed the legislation yesterday and is looking for a co-sponsor in the Assembly.