On Nov. 12, 2019, the voters of Ludlow will have the opportunity to vote whether or not to purchase the Black River High School building from the school district for $1. Sounds like a bargain, doesn’t it? There are many issues that determine whether it is or isn’t.
Is something a bargain if one doesn’t really need the property or have a need that the property fills at a cost effective price. We also need to look into the consequences of Ludlow not purchasing the property. How will this affect the town strategically and fiscally? The minutes of the Selectboard indicate that maintaining the property would be the responsibility of the town if we don’t buy it. Is this true, and under what pretense?
Does the town of Ludlow “need” this property for any true town purpose? I don’t see in the Selectboard’s discussions a need by the town of Ludlow that this purchase would specifically fill. Or might the town really be looking to purchase the property to assist a private entity, such as the Black River Independent School, in meeting their goals for establishing a private school here by becoming landlords of the property? Is it in the town of Ludlow’s scope of purpose to be landlords, possibly competing with private enterprise in the real estate market?
The true cost of the building is not just the $1 purchase price, but also the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the property over the short- and long-term. I have heard estimates from $125,000 to $175,000 per year for maintenance of the building. In addition, a landlord must expect additional expenses for upgrades and capital expenditures of the property and mechanical systems. If the town of Ludlow intends to act as landlords of this property, then that rent must be at a profitable and fair market value in order that these costs are covered by the rent paid by tenants of the property and not in such a way that we are not subsidizing a private entity in its pursuit of its goals.
In addition, in the latest discussions of the Selectboard, there has been a discussion of a 1% Local Tax on sales and purchases in Ludlow, with the pretense that the funds raised would be used to upgrade infrastructure in town and aid in the funding for the school building. At this time, I feel these intentions are a bit hazy and undefined. This adds to my suspicions that the taxpayers will be supporting private education with public dollars.
Lastly, I ask what will happen with the building if the BRIS does not become a reality, or if it opens with the town of Ludlow’s assistance in providing the building and closes before it gets a chance to become independently sustainable? Who do we rent the building to then?
I am of the opinion that the focus of this endeavor is the support of the establishment of the Black River Independent School. The citizens of Ludlow have voiced their opinion that we cannot justify the support of a high school here any longer. Our education tax dollars are going to be used to offer school choice, and I believe this will offer the children here the best possible education opportunity. If the town of Ludlow is to purchase this property, it must do so with a plan that will benefit all of the residents and taxpayers of the town. While I will wait to hear comments and input at the informational meeting, I think that at this time, with the feasibility and practicality of BRIS as questionable as it is, that we should vote no on the purchase of the Black River School building.