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State Leaves Ocean City in Limbo on School Construction Funds

A special school election is scheduled for March 11.

State Leaves Ocean City in Limbo on School Construction Funds
Ocean City voters will cast ballots in a special election March 11 to decide on borrowing to pay for a $6.6 million renovation of the Ocean City Primary School.

Gov. Chris Christie promised last month that the state would pay $2.4 million to Ocean City for school construction. The news was part of an announcement from Christie's office about $507.7 million in new state funding for 1,538 school projects statewide.

But a month after the announcement, Ocean City has yet to receive confirmation from state education officials that the money is really coming.

The school district does not know how much of the project cost to ask voters to fund and even if it's advisable to hold the March 11 special election on schedule.

In an update for the Ocean City Board of Education last week and again at a presentation to the Fairness in Taxes community group on Friday, new School Business Administrator Pat Yacovelli talked about a "period of uncertainty" for the district.

Yacovelli said information from the state Department of Education has been "very, very limited," and he knows only that the department is still reviewing applications and tentatively may release decisions on Jan. 21.

The district awaits a "preliminary eligible cost" (PEC) letter to confirm the state funding. The Board of Education's next regularly scheduled meeting is Jan. 29. If the district does not have the PEC letter, the board will have to decide on a course of action.

The primary school project is not planned until summer 2015, but the district was hoping a March referendum would allow it take advantage of historically low interest rates on borrowing.

The school needs a new roof, heating and cooling systems, plumbing and electrical systems, windows and doors. The estimated cost of the work is $6.6 million.
Voters would be asked to authorize a bond issue to pay for the balance of the project not funded by state grants.

The district faces two major capital projects: the $6.6 million Primary School project and a $2.9 million replacement of the heating and cooling (HVAC) system at Ocean City High School.

The state money would be used to reduce the cost burden to local taxpayers on one or both of the projects. 

The balance would be funded as follows:

  • OCHS HVAC system: The district's capital reserve fund (with a balance of about $3 million earlier this year) would pay for the project scheduled for summer 2014.
  • OCPS renovation: The bond issue would pay for the project scheduled for summer 2015.

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