Buses back on ballot in Tupper Lake

TUPPER LAKE – The bus proposition that residents voted down 750-426 in May was widely misunderstood, Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan said at Monday’s school board meeting.

The proposition asked voters to allow the district to buy two new buses at a maximum of $230,500, but McGowan said the buses would actually cost the district much less in the long run – about $59,000 total over the next six years.

The school board will try to get the proposition passed again by putting it back on the ballot on June 18, when people in the school district will get a chance to vote on the second version of the 2013-14 school budget. The first version would have exceeded the state-imposed tax cap, but voters defeated it 685-512 in May. The second version will come in a full percentage point under the tax cap, shedding seven full-time jobs and raising the levy 3.76 percent.

McGowan said Monday that many in the district believe the $230,500 for the buses is an outright cost in the 2013-14 budget, but it’s not. It’s part of a borrowing program the school district has been on for the last several years to replace buses and get the maximum value out of them.

He said the proposition asked for $230,500, but the actual cost of the buses will likely be closer to $186,500, and much of that would be reimbursed by the state.

The first year of payments, 2013-14, the district would only pay interest on the borrowing, which would amount to about $3,500.

In each of the following four years, the district’s payments on the two buses would be around $50,000, but it would get $20,114 back in state aid in each of those years, so the payment would be closer to $30,000.

In 2018-19, the district would be finished paying for the buses and would get another $20,114 back from the state that year.

So in the end, the district would pay about $99,000 for the buses total.

Then, because the district is only keeping them for five years, McGowan said it could conservatively expect to get $40,000 in resale value for them. If it kept the buses longer, he said the district would get much lower resale prices.

So between the state aid and the resale, the district would only be down about $59,000 at the end of the process, McGowan said.

He noted that the buses are on warranty for the five years the district keeps them, so if it were to have them any longer, the district would be responsible for some hefty repair costs.

The district currently has about 15 or 16 buses, and they are all part of this replacement program, McGowan said.

Too many buses?

District Business Manager Garry Lanthier and mechanic Tim Rogers both disputed the idea that the district has too many buses, many of which often go unused.

Lanthier said the state comes to inspect at least three buses each month, and if one fails, it has to be put out of service for at least an entire month until the inspectors come again. Also, every 10,000 miles, mechanics have to do maintenance that take the buses out of service for two to three days, he said. There were also two small bus crashes this year in which no one was hurt, but the district had to take those buses out of service until they could be inspected again.

He also noted that there are seven sports teams in the fall, six in the winter and seven in the spring, and when all those teams are out competing in different places, the district needs ways to transport them on top of bringing kids home from school each day.

“So it’s not as though we have extra buses lying around,” McGowan said. “The buses are running constantly.”

Rogers said there are 170 items on a bus that can fail on a state inspection, and since he can’t keep all those in stock at all times, it’s inevitable that buses are going to be taken out of service once in a while.

He said he and his colleagues wish the district had a few more buses, since they find themselves pushing back scheduled service like oil changes for a few days because of field trips or sports games.

“There’s many times I don’t have enough,” Rogers said.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.