ORR School District: Funds for renovation project would come from a Prop 2-1/2 debt exclusion

Apr 14, 2019

MATTAPOISETT — At a Board of Selectmen meeting on April 12 to review ballot questions for the Annual Election Selectmen voiced continued opposition to a school renovation proposal. 

The Board of Selectmen received a request this month from the Old Rochester Regional School District for a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to fund improvements at the high school.

Proposition 2 1/2 is a tax levy limit preventing towns from increasing the property tax levy by more than 2.5 percent each year — after accounting for growth — without the approval of voters. A debt exclusion, which needs voter approval, allows a temporary tax increase above that limit to repay borrowing for a specific project.

Chair of the Board of Selectmen Jordan Collyer said he will be expressing his opposition to the district’s request at Mattapoisett’s annual town meeting on May 21. He also said the proposal was taken out of the capital process.

Town Administrator Michael Gagne invited the ORR School Committee to discuss the board’s questions with the Capital Planning Committee to which the committee agreed.

The renovation project, which has been discussed for years, would upgrade deteriorating athletic fields and the auditorium’s lighting and sound system. The cost of the project, which is over $2 million, would be split between Mattapoisett, Marion, and Rochester. 

The cost to the average homeowner under a 15-year debt-schedule would be $19.57 a year in Mattapoisett, $25.11 a year in Marion, and $34.39 a year in Rochester, according to materials released by Restore ORR. 

Gagne pointed out at the Selectmen’s April 4 meeting that interest payments would bring the project’s total cost to $2.6 million.

Selectmen questioned whether the fields-and-auditorium project is Old Rochester’s top capital priority and were concerned it may not be the only million-dollar project they will see requested in the next year.

Vice Chair of the Board of Selectmen Tyler Macallister said he didn’t like the Board of Selectmen’s lack of involvement in the district’s proposal discussion. “The way it was basically forced down our throats without ever involving us in this discussion for taking any consideration of the capital process ... is not the right way to do business,” said Macallister.

ORR School Committee Chairman Cary Humphrey said the school committee invited Mattapoisett officials to their project proposal discussions on Jan. 14 and 16, and March 26. To his knowledge, the only official to show up was Gagne at the Jan. 16 meeting.

Humphrey wants to work with all three towns, and said he harbors no hostility towards Gagne or Mattapoisett officials. 

“I don’t feel like we are trying to shove this down anybody’s throat,” said Humphrey, “All of the school committee members want to work with the three towns, that’s our goal. We have to collaborate.”

The ballot question was approved by Marion and Rochester to be sent to their annual town meetings.

While the Mattapoisett Selectmen does not agree with the ballot question, they have sent it to the town meeting warrant.

The school committee will meet with the finance committee but the date has not been determined.