YORKTOWN, N.Y. — Without unanimous consent from the 18 districts that make up BOCES of Putnam and Northern Westchester, the organization cannot go ahead with its capital improvement projects, putting renovation plans at somewhat of a standstill and leaving BOCES officials to work with the districts that voted against its proposal.
“In an interesting sort of way we have overwhelming support for the project and usually 2/3 would be enough to go ahead in a different kind of system, but because we have to have unanimous support we have to keep working with the districts that have said no to work through their concerns,” BOCES Superintendent James Langlois said. “But all of them have said we absolutely understand the need for these repairs, it’s just that they’re all struggling with their own problems, which is very understandable. So we’ll keep working with them.”
The capital improvements plan, presented to each of the districts that utilize the BOCES schools for their own students, includes projects done on the roofs, HVAC work, a therapeutic pool in the Pines Bridge/Walden School and a fire alarm/public announcement system at the school services building. BOCES plans to put $900,000 from its capital fund, to offset the $19 million cost, which then leaves the districts paying more than $18 million.
The six school districts to vote against providing funds to the project were Yorktown, Mahopac, Brewster, Somers, Chappaqua and Ossining. The other 12 districts – Bedford, Briarcliff, Carmel, Croton-Harmon, Garrison, Haldane, Hendrick Hudson, Katonah-Lewisboro, Lakeland, North Salem, Peekskill and Putnam Valley – voted to approve funding the projects.
Langlois said one major hurdle the districts and BOCES are trying to overcome with the help of Assembly member Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) and other officials from the governor’s office, is that the BOCES capital improvements are not excluded from the 2 percent property tax cap, although the actual school district’s own capital expenditures are.
“It makes perfect sense that it should be exempt. Local school districts buy BOCES property, they renovate it, if it’s sold they get the revenue from it. So essentially it’s theirs and so it would make a lot of sense for it to have the same exclusion that their capital expenses have,” Langlois said.
The amount of money each district would pay differs based on a formula: a mixture of district size, use of BOCES and property wealth. BOCES made different recommendations for districts to pay for the projects, including payment plans stretching out several years, or bonds. Coincidentally, BOCES is currently refunding the 18 districts a total of about $9 million dollars, which some districts are using to offset the costs they would pay into the projects.
Langlois said the $9 million refund is due to the fact that BOCES began a fund to collect for retiree health insurance and later found out that although the comptroller commended them for their foresight, there’s no authorization in state law to collect and reserve the money. They were then told they had to give the money back.
Without the approval of the funds for the project, 83 percent of which makes up roof repairs and HVAC work, Langlois said the BOCES district can’t do anything except make minor repairs in the meantime.
“It's work that has to be done and it will get done eventually," Langlois said. "It just may take longer than we hoped it would take, but we don’t have the option of not doing it. It’s just the question of how the boards will finally come around to figuring out how they can manage to afford it."