Select Board talks tax increases for new Middle School

By Betsy Levinson - betsy@theconcordbridge.org

At a brief meeting last week, the Select Board discussed how much money would be in the warrant article on the new Middle School.

The article is among three proposed for the Jan. 19 special Town Meeting at the high school.

The impetus for the all-town meeting is the soaring cost estimates for the new Middle School. The original price tag, approved almost a year ago, was about $102.8 million, but more recent estimates put the number significantly higher.

A near-final estimate, at the 90 percent level, is due in early January. The budget could top $115 million, or keep climbing, making it hard to arrive at a firm number.

Select Board members wrestled with what to put before voters.

Mary Hartman said $115M was too high.

“It’s asking a lot of taxpayers,” she said. “We need a more reasonable number.”

Terri Ackerman suggested the number on the warrant could be amended on the floor of Town Meeting.

Board member Henry Dane expressed his opposition to moving the article at all.

“I voted not to call a Town Meeting for this purpose,” he said. He advocates taking a wider look at various capital projects in town before spending so much on one.

“It’s a serious effect on taxpayers,” said Dane. “115M is unacceptable, even $102M is an enormous stretch.”

Another wrinkle is that $115M may not be the ceiling, as revised estimates could be higher than what is passed in January.

Hartman and board member Linda Escobedo thought $110M might be a “realistic” warrant article number.

Board Chairman Matt Johnson said discussion of a firm number was “constraining.”

“We’re not giving the voters the opportunity to decide,” said Johnson.

The board voted 3 to 2 to move an article “capped” at $110 million, with $7.2 million added to the already-approved $102.8 million. Hartman, Ackerman and Escobedo voted aye, while Dane and Johnson voted nay.

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