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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hackensack officials, homeowners urging 'no' vote on $170M school bond, tax hike

HARD SELL: At a City Council work session on Tuesday night, Leila T. Amirhamzeh, a member of the Hackensack Board of Education, and former Superintendent Joseph Cicchelli (not shown) outlined the ambitious $170 million plan to build a junior high school and parking garage, and upgrade six existing city schools.
VOTE 'NO': Mayor John P. Labrosse Jr. left the dais and put on his "taxpayer and citizen" cap to speak against the plan. He charged school officials with trying to trick voters by claiming on the Jan. 22 ballot that the "average tax impact [would be] $308.66 over 30 years," when, in fact, the tax hike would be $308.66 every year for 30 years.


HACKENSACK -- The real cost of the $170 million school construction referendum on the ballot in 12 days would be $318 million when 30 years of interest are included, critics said Tuesday night.

At a noisy City Council work session, school officials outlined the ambitious building plan and answered questions from members of the public, but most of the city officials and residents who spoke said they will vote 'no' at the special election on Jan. 22.

'YOUR VOTE COUNTS!' The two sides of a large postcard sent to every Hackensack resident by a group of condo owners led by Martin J. Cramer, an attorney who lives on Overlook Avenue. Polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Jan. 22.

Hackensack Smart Schools Inc.

Martin J. Cramer, a former Teaneck councilman and township attorney who now lives in a Hackensack condo, is organizing opposition to the $170 million school bond.

"Our tax rate in killing us," said Cramer, who is calling his group, Hackensack Smart Schools Inc.

On Tuesday night, Cramer said he met with school officials to discuss the plan, but noted it is illegal for the Board of Education "to advocate" in favor of the referendum.

Cramer and others objected to the size of the proposal -- $169,904,226 -- which they said was far larger than referendums put forward by other school districts.

And they also dislike the board's single, take-it-or-leave it ballot question lumping $101.5 million in new construction with alterations, repairs and upgrades to six existing schools.

Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino said the proposal could be divided into as many as four questions.

And she added that she and most other residents would support renovations and upgrades to the city's existing schools, which are said to average 100 years old.

Canestrino said those repairs and upgrades, including air conditioning, could be paid for by an average tax hike of  about $108 a year for 30 years.  

Residents who spoke, including a woman who identified herself as a former educator, also said it would be wrong to mix younger and older students by building a new junior high school on the Hackensack High School campus.

Higher tax impacts

On the ballot, school officials estimate the average assessed home at $245,431 and the average tax impact as $308.66 each year for 30 years, but if your home's assessment is double the average, you'll pay double the average tax hike.

My home is assessed at $561,000, so I would have to fork over roughly $650 a year or $19,500 over 30 years.

In an open letter, Mayor John P. Labrosse Jr. said:

"There is no question that our schools are in a state of serious disrepair, largely due to years of neglect and lack of proper maintenance. Everyone knows our children deserve better. But is this the best plan for the city?
"We believe a more phased-in approach that lessens the immediate impact on taxpayers would be a better plan. Let's take care of those long-ignored maintenance issues and make the required upgrades to modernize our schools."

The Fanny Meyer Hillers Elementary School in Hackensack in an April 2016 photo. The school is under the flight path of business jets that use Teterboro Airport.

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