In The Independent: NK Bond Supporters Argue Town Can’t Delay Any Longer
This article appears in the September 21, 2023 and was written by Bill Seymour.
Please read the story online and below.
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Proponents of a $247.4 million bond in North Kingstown say that proposed tax increases may eventually be lower than first estimated, but that a middle school, public safety complex and recreation center are worthy of consideration.
“We are looking at a 55% reimbursement (for the school portion),” Town Council President Pro Tempore Kim Page said this week. “That is hard to walk away from. It really takes down people’s tax burden.”
In total, the proposed bonding comes in two questions for voters. One is for $222.4 million for the school and public safety complex proposals. A second is for $25 million for a recreation center and emergency shelter.
own calculations show an annual tax hike between $800 to just over $900 on a $450,000 assessed home in town. Estimates put the average home value in town at nearly $555,000 as prices increase in the South County real estate market. It could mean a nearly 15% tax hike.
Town Manager Ralph Mollis said, “We have plans to restructure this debt in a manner of retiring current debt and lessen these tax figures, but I can’t say how much right now.”
Page also stepped forward to address opponents’ accusations of “manipulation” by combining a direct public service — public safety — with education that often draws critics.
Opponents claim the Town Council deliberately packaged a middle school and proposed a new public safety complex together so those favoring public safety would also need to approve the middle school.
“There wasn’t this plot to do this,” she said. “It was strictly that we need to have a new police and fire complex and a new middle school. North Kingstown students need a new middle school. Wickford Middle School should have been replaced years ago and Davisviile Middle will need to be renovated very soon.”
Making the case for the vote now, officials have said the vote needs to occur this November so that planning leading to commitments can take place by June, Page said.
School officials are also clear about the reasons for the bond.
“Our goal is to create a modern and functional, consolidated middle school facility for grades 6 - 8, that will provide safe, conducive learning environments,” they say in an informational flier posted on the School Committee website (bit.ly/nkmiddleschool).
They pointed to key issues driving the decision to address issues with Wickford Middle School, built in 1932, and Davisville Middle School in 1967.
They said there needs to either be extensive improvements or changes to accommodate 21st-Century requirements for students preparing to enter a community college, four-year university, trade school, or joining the workforce in a progressive job paying salaries to meet today’s costs of living.
These upgrades and changes include common spaces (gym, auditorium, library/media center), upgraded science labs and rooms for students involved in career and technical training. In addition, the current buildings lack adequate safety and security requirements and need energy-efficient mechanical and building systems, modern temperature-controlled air quality, and improved space for diverse learners with special needs, they said.
“Our current building systems are reaching the end of useful life and require costly repairs or upgrades” to meet current state and local codes for the design and maintenance of school buildings, according to school officials in their information flier.
Some opponents have discussed delays on a middle school vote until more information is available, such as designs and further cost estimates. School and town officials have said this is not sound planning and could cost taxpayers more in the long run.
The reason for the bond vote now, proponents argue, is to move the project forward to avoid future increased costs and take advantage of the state incentives.
While agreeing with the need for all improvements, Megan Reilly, a frequent school critic, said recently, “This is a no-go for us. Many people want a separate and single vote on the school project. It should not go forward.”
She, along with critics Edward Renehan and Rickey Thompson, started NkMegabond.org, a website outlining their positions. They are holding meetings to persuade voters to oppose the bond.
Their problem, however, lies in coupling the school bond with a $55 million public safety complex.
Having two questions will not make the middle school or public safety complex less expensive, say proponents of the bond. In addition, Reilly, Renehan and Thompson offer no evidence that separate votes reduce costs, they added.
School officials plan citizen information sessions in the coming weeks — September 26 and October 18 — two evening forums to explain the three projects funded by the bonds. Police and fire personnel are championing the public safety complex. They are also holding informational gatherings. They also created a website, nkpublicsafetybuilding.org, to distribute information to the public.
In addition, public safety personnel are giving tours of their outdated complex to show citizens the need for their approval of the bond.
Write to Bill Seymour, a freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at email@example.com.