To the Editor:
The District Newsletter for Canton Central School was recently mailed out and included the proposed 2017-2018 budget. Two specific propositions, #4 and #5, should be of particular concern to all members of the Canton community. Specifically, they propose purchasing two single-family homes adjacent to the elementary school, razing both structures, and expanding the size of the parking lot.
I write not to question the need for improvements in parking and pedestrian safety. I do, however, question the specifics of this proposed solution and the manner in which it has been communicated to the community.
First, the pragmatic financial concern. According to a recent North Country Now article published on April 16, 2017, 66% of property within the village of Canton is tax exempt. When expanded to include the entire town of Canton, 49.5% of property within the district is still tax exempt.
The two properties in question, 77 State Street and 79 State Street, are both revenue-generating single-family homes. According to Zillow.com, 77 State Street generates $4,726 in taxes; 79 State Street generates $4,919 in taxes. Meanwhile, Canton Central School already occupies a parcel of land that includes 109 acres, according to the St. Lawrence County digital tax map. Surely, another solution can be identified that utilizes current district-owned land, does not negatively impact the local community, or further erode our local tax base.
Second, this proposition will result in the destruction of two historic homes. Each property holds a direct connection to our local school. 77 State Street, built in 1889, is the childhood home of Frances Sheard Banford. For many years she served as the Principal of the Canton Grammar School and our current elementary school is named in her honor!
This same home was later owned by Nicholas Baffaro, a long-time music director at the school. 79 State Street, constructed in 1900, was the home of Kay Bradley, who also spent her career working at the school and serving her community. Is it worth losing two historic village homes just to build another parking lot?
Perhaps most concerning is the tone of the newsletter – and the manner in which Canton Central School administrators have chosen to engage with our local community over the past few years. On the cover are photos of our elementary school parking lot with the headline, “accidents literally waiting to happen…” For any community member who participated in the Canton-Potsdam school merger forums a few years ago, such sensationalism and scare tactics are painfully familiar.
Case in point: the feasibility study for the Canton-Potsdam merger, distributed in June 2014, projected a 2017-18 fiscal year fund balance deficit of -$4,000,000 (Figure 9-7, p. 168). Clearly, this doomsday scenario has not happened. In fact, the district’s fund balance is healthy enough today to purchase the two single-family homes in question for a total of $246,000.
As community members, we should also seek further clarification on the true motive for this project. Is it really student safety? Or is it a quick-fix effort to provide more parking for the incoming BOCES ABA Program? (See Watertown Daily Times article, March 27, 2017)
On Tuesday, May 16, I encourage all members of the Canton Central School District community to vote no to Proposition #4 and Proposition #5. Just like we did in 2014 with the Canton-Potsdam merger proposition, let your vote tell district administrators that short-sighted, short-term fixes that negatively impact our community are unacceptable.
More importantly, let your vote tell them we will not be influenced by “communications” laced with demeaning scare tactics; that we demand transparent community dialogue and well thought-out, strategic vision for our children and our future.