Allentown council will seek details on possible school referendum


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ALLENTOWN – Municipal officials are planning to invite representatives of the Upper Freehold Regional School District to attend an Allentown Borough Council meeting to discuss the projects that may be included in a school district referendum.

During the May 8 meeting of the governing body, Councilman John A. Elder III reported that after seeing a $9.5 million referendum rejected on Sept. 26, 2017, the members of the school district’s Board of Education are making plans to place a revised referendum totaling $7.2 million before voters in Allentown and Upper Freehold Township later this year.

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“The school board has taken the position that if the referendum is rejected this year, there will be a greater cost to taxpayers,” Elder told Mayor Greg Westfall, his fellow council members and residents. “In the end, there are roofs that will have to be replaced.”

Elder said if residents approve the referendum later this year, school district administrators will be able to apply for state funding to pay for a portion of the cost of the projects that will be proposed in the ballot question.

Council President Thomas Fritts said if the referendum is defeated, the school board may seek $6 million in emergency funding to cover the cost of work that must be completed and will do so without being able to apply for funding from the state.

On Sept. 26, voters in Upper Freehold Township and Allentown rejected a series of proposed school district projects at a total cost not to exceed $9.96 million. The referendum was defeated by voters, 1,098 no to 625 yes.

The referendum included the following projects: Newell Elementary School, roof replacement; Allentown High School, roof replacement; Global Learning Center and Vo/Ag building, roof project; Newell Elementary School, solar panels project; Allentown High School, solar panels project; Global Learning Center, solar panels project; Allentown High School, auditorium renovations; and Newell Elementary School, new emergency generator.

If the referendum had been approved, the owner of a home assessed at the Allentown average of $289,483 would have paid an additional $103 per year in school taxes for 20 years. The owner of a home assessed at the Upper Freehold Township average of $464,500 would have paid an additional $158 per year in school taxes for 20 years, according to a handout prepared by the district.

In December, board members discussed removing $2.77 million worth of work and presenting voters with a $7.2 million package of projects. Removing the solar panel projects would save $2.24 million. A representative of the district’s architectural firm said many members of the community were opposed to the proposed solar panels.

Other cost reductions were related to the planned auditorium renovations at Allentown High School, which were described as aesthetic in nature.

No date was announced for when the school district representatives may attend an Allentown council meeting.

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