All Three Pinelands Referendum Questions Pass on Second TryStunning Reversal of Turnout, and Results
Tuckerton Leader — After the defeat of three Pinelands Regional School District referendum questions on Nov. 8, Pinelands Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks took pains to thank the voters of Eagleswood Township and Tuckerton Borough for their support. The voters in those two municipalities had voted yes on the questions, only to be outnumbered by nay-saying residents of Little Egg Harbor and Bass River townships.
The Pinelands Regional School District decided to put the questions in front of voters once again on Jan. 24, and this time around all three passed. Banks, Pinelands Regional School District Business Administrator/ Board Secretary Stephen Brennan and board of education President Susan M. Ernst were quick to thank the voters of all four of the district’s constituent municipalities.
“The district is grateful to the citizens of Bass River, Eagleswood, Little Egg Harbor and Tuckerton for approving the referendum,” said Ernst. “Their generosity will enable not only our current students, but future Wildcats, to take advantage of the educational experience that will help them develop into well-rounded, productive citizens. So, on their behalf, thank you!”
“Pinelands Regional Junior and Senior high schools are in critical need of the repairs and upgrades outlined in the three questions of the referendum,” said Banks. “District administration and the board of education are pleased that the members of the communities acknowledged the extreme importance of the referendum, and recognized it as an investment in our students and their future, and that of our communities. This referendum would not have been successful without the hard work and dedication of our parents, teachers, students, board and community members. We cannot thank you enough for all of your efforts to get out the vote.”
Brennan told voters their decision helped not only the district, but also themselves.
“We never want to impose an additional tax burden on the community,” he said. “By approving the referendum now, when we are retiring other debt and have the opportunity to take advantage of state funding, we are saving taxpayers money in the long run.”
The referendum’s approval authorized some $53.6 million in bonds. The majority of the money will be used to address critical structural issues at the high school building, issues that already have resulted in the closing of nine classrooms and the removal of a staircase. The remainder will pay for repairs, renovations and improvements at both the junior high and high school buildings, including HVAC updates, new roofs, interior renovations and site work as well as improvements to the district’s athletic complex, including a new grass football field and the resurfacing of the track and tennis courts.
The district is eligible to receive up to 40 percent in state funding for Questions 1 and 2 and up to 19 percent for Question 3. That will leave the taxpayers of the constituent districts responsible for the rest. The average annual tax impact over the course of 25 years for the owner of an average assessed home in all four of the district’s municipalities will be less than $100 for Question 1 while the impact of Questions 2 and 3 will add no more than $22 per year to the taxes of average homeowners in even the most impacted of the communities.
The district will address the most urgent projects immediately. Specifically, the district will start replacing interior concrete masonry and exterior brick masonry at the high school, as well as repair or replace the structural steel within the perimeter wall that has been damaged due to corrosion. The other projects will be initiated in the spring/summer of 2017 with completion of all projects expected by the fall or winter of 2018.
The reversal of the district’s fortunes in the voting booth from Nov. 8 and Jan. 24 was stunningly large. According to now-official results that include mail-in and provisional ballots, 5,612, or 50.19 percent, of the combined voters of the Ocean County municipalities of Eagleswood, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor voted against Question 1 in November while 5,569, or 49.81, percent of those voters approved it. Meanwhile, Question 1 was voted down 325 to 300 in Burlington County’s Bass River Township. Question 2 went down by 5,325 to 5,008 in Ocean County, and 336 to 225 in Bass River. Question 3 was beaten rather badly: 5,630 to 4,906 in Ocean County and a 331 to 274 tally in Bass River.
The January results – again, now official – told a totally different story, even though the questions were worded exactly the same as in November. Question 1 passed easily in Ocean County, 2,024 to 1,508 (or 57 to 43 percent). In Bass River, 109 voters voted yes while 69 did the opposite. Question 2 was supported, 1,916 to 1,587 in Ocean County, and in Bass River, 101 to 74. Question 3 passed, 1,859 to 1,646, in Ocean County, and 102-73 in Bass River.
Banks was right in one respect when she thanked parents, teachers, students, board and community members for getting out the vote. Supporters of the referendum did get out supporters to vote. Opponents, though, didn’t.
The overall January turnout was pathetic compared to November, which isn’t surprising considering Nov. 8 was not only a general election, but also a hotly contested presidential election as well.
Just 206 of Eagleswood’s 1,211 registered voters cast a ballot at the January special election. That’s only 17 percent. There are 14,777 registered voters in Little Egg Harbor; only 2,914 (under 20 percent) voted in January. Of Tuckerton’s 2,350 registered voters, only 430 (18 percent) entered a voting booth or mailed in a ballot in January.
In the November election, 224,614 out of 314,051 registered voters in Burlington County actually voted; that’s 71.5 percent. In Ocean County, 280,409 out of 401,209 registered voters took the time to vote, either in person or by mail; that’s a 69.8 percent turnout for the presidential election.
— Rick Mellerup