Lawn signs are few, but a groundswell is emerging on social media against the Middle School debt exclusion article that passed handily at the special Town Meeting in late January.
The article must now pass by a simple majority at the polls on Feb. 16.
The budget is estimated at approximately $110 million. A year ago, $102.8 million was approved, but the Building Committee says recent construction estimates have increased by an estimated 5 to 6 percent, and for the bids to be sent out, the town needs another $7.2 million.
But despite the affirmative vote at Town Meeting, there is pushback by those who feel $102.8 million “is enough,” according to Anita Tekle and Dorrie Kehoe who circulated a tract at Town Meeting.
Tekle spoke at the meeting, saying the budget for the Middle School is “more than Concord paid for three elementary schools and the high school combined.”
A poster on the Next Door website added, “The entire situation is a travesty. If you can’t build an educational facility for 700 students at a cost of $145k per student, then there is a serious problem with the whole process. Let’s get real people.”
According to data from the Finance Department, property taxes will go up an estimated $73 per year for the additional $7.2M based on the median home value. For the larger construction budget of almost $110M, taxes for the school project will go up by approximately $1,200 annually for the length of the bonds..
“When do we recognize that enough is enough,” said Tekle.
Population statistics show that about a third of Concord residents are seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes and for whom the tax increase is too big a burden.
But Building Committee members spent months speaking to the public at coffees and information sessions, both in person and on Zoom, to educate the town on the design and the budget. The committee also said around $4 million had been cut from the original estimate through a process called value engineering.
West Concord resident John Cooley posted, “The reason for the broad voting support among parents and non parents based on all the documents, coffee hours and presentations made before and during the meeting was that rejecting the budget extension and going back to cut costs would end up costing more and more tax dollars because of how costly the planning process is.” He added that redoing the entire design “would add months or years of time that little kids are going to the current dilapidated middle school.”
But contributors to Next Door have spoken out on the site about the tax hike. Commenters do not say they oppose the new school, but ask why the town can’t build it for the $102.8 already committed to it.
“How did this project get this far without real community involvement?” asked Grace Geilich, rhetorically.
Caroline Seamans posted that she is “disappointed at the lack of overall fiscal responsibility that the town is exhibiting.”
“Communications are broken in the town to the harm of many,” wrote West Concord resident Susan Us. “We need to rethink how the town reaches those who cannot navigate these issues by age, luddites, the infirm or other and how to mobilize others.”
Tekle said other capital projects have been deferred “because of the Middle School.”