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Bond issue needs 60% approval by voters ; $130 million plan exceeds borrowing limit

An estimated 26,000 residents of Niagara Falls are eligible to vote Feb. 15 in the city school district's referendum on borrowing up to $130 million in 30-year bonds.

The borrowing would pay for renovations or additions to 11 school buildings and improvements to athletic fields and playgrounds.

School officials hope to persuade as many registered voters to vote as possible, and even to round up anybody else who may be eligible to vote but may not have registered in previous elections.

The $130 million bond issue is one of the largest local borrowing proposals in recent memory, but School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco has stressed repeatedly that it will not add to the property tax levy in Niagara Falls.

The entire borrowing, including interest and various fees involved in the bond issue, will be paid for with financial aid from the state and cash already on hand in the school district.

One reason for encouraging a large turnout of voters, however, is that approval of the borrowing will require at least a 60 percent affirmative vote among those who go to the polls.

That is because the bond issue would place the district above its state imposed borrowing limit of about $72 million, according to Timothy J. Hyland, administrator for school business services. Hyland said about $61 million in borrowing "presently is on the books, leaving outstanding only about $11 million in bonding ability."

If the proposed borrowing fell within that $11 million limit, approval would require a simple majority of the votes cast.

The Niagara Falls School District requires all of its employees to live within the city, so most of them are eligible to vote, and administrators feel that most of them would vote "yes" because the proposed renovations and additions would improve their working conditions and perhaps provide a better learning experience for students.

Everybody who has lived in the city for at least 30 days and who was registered to vote in last November's gubernatorial election is automatically registered to vote in the Feb. 15 referendum. Based on Niagara Falls registration statistics, officials believe about 26,000 people are registered to vote, although far fewer than that actually show up at the polls.

Just to make sure that no potential voters are overlooked, however, the school district will hold a special registration day for anybody who meets the usual requirements for voter registration but who may not actually be registered with the Niagara County Board of Elections or with the school district.

District Clerk Ruthel D. Dumas said special registration for the school referendum will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. next Monday in Niagara Falls High School, 4455 Porter Road. She said anybody under age 21 should bring proof of identification such as a birth certificate or driver's license.

In a further effort to encourage wider voter participation, the district will provide absentee ballots for anybody who is confined by illness or who expects to be out of town Feb. 15.

Applications for absentee ballots must be received in the district clerk's office at 630 66th St. at least seven days before the election if the ballot is to be mailed to them, or the day before the election if the voter obtains a ballot in person.

In either case, completed absentee ballots must be received by the school district by 5 p.m. on the day of the election.

Voting will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Feb. 15 in all 39 election districts in Niagara Falls. Voters will go to the same neighborhood polling places where they vote in general elections.

A series of public forums have been scheduled to help people understand the bond issue and the voting process. Some of those forums already have been held, according to Judie Gregory, the school district's director of public relations.

Others are scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the central office, 630 66th St.; 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in LaSalle Preparatory School, Buffalo Avenue and 76th Street; and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26 in Niagara Street School, 625 Tronolone Place.


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