CSD boards approve bond referendum, public hearings

Potential tax increases calculated
Thu, 08/31/2023 - 1:15pm

    The Community School District (CSD) School Board and Board of Trustees approved a referendum during a joint meeting Aug. 29 to vote on issuing bonds to fund the $89 million Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor school renovation project. Both boards voted unanimously to approve a Nov. 9 referendum, warrant and notice of election. In addition, both boards voted unanimously to approve a public hearing on Oct. 25 in Boothbay Harbor and Oct. 26 in Boothbay. The boards voted on language approved by CSD attorneys.

    As reported in the Register, the referendum questions split the issue into two parts around renovating the middle-elementary school and building a new high school. Trustees Chair Steve Lorrain said he is ready to see how the public feels. According to Lorrain, a referendum is not required by the school charter, but the boards want to include the community. 

    "We could have gone through all this and not even decided to go to a referendum," he said. "We tried to front load this right from the beginning." 

    The first referendum question will ask voters if they are in favor of authorizing the CSD Trustees to issue bonds or notes for up to $28.8 million for renovations of the elementary school, and the construction of a middle school wing and maintenance building. It also asks if voters favor applying donations, including about $2 million in existing donations and possible future philanthropy. 

    The second question asks if voters favor authorizing the trustees to also include a new high school, with an auditorium, in the project and issue bonds of up to $60.2 million to pay for it. It also asks if voters are in favor of using bonds and donations from both questions for the whole project.  

    The board of trustees deals with bond issues under the charter. However, the school board did vote on some issues for redundancy and clarity, according to officials.

    The trustees voted 5-0 to recommend CSD voters approve Question 1. They also voted 5-0 in favor of not recommending a position on Question 2. Trustee Darrell Gudroe said he and the board are not ready to make a recommendation on Question 2 but are ready to give the public a chance to weigh in.  

    “I think that if we had more donations planned and expected, then we might be more comfortable moving forward with a ‘yes’ vote on it, but we also didn't want to leave the public not able to make a decision ... we thought it was important to put it on the ballot now, give them the understanding that if we move it down the road, it's just going to cost more. But we also weren't comfortable with recommending they should move forward with it. We want to leave it up to the public.”

    According to materials Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Robert Kahler provided to the Register, for each year the building and renovation project is delayed, costs would increase by about $6 million a year for the whole project; that is split between $2 million for the middle-elementary portion and $4 million for the new high school.   

    The materials also include projected tax increases for land and property valued at $300,000, calculated with a 25-year bond at 4% interest. Kahler said in an email Aug. 31, there is a “caveat ... This is based on this years information, no donations, and if we bonded the full amounts at one time, which we would not do.” According to the document, the entire $89 million project could increase the mil rate by $3.62 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation ($1,089) for Boothbay taxpayers and $2.95 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation ($885) for Boothbay Harbor. For the $28.8 million middle-elementary school project, the mil rate increase could be $1.21 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation ($363) for Boothbay and $0.98 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation ($294) for Boothbay Harbor.  

    Kahler said the school district will be fundraising for the next four to five years to ease the taxpayer burden, regardless of how the vote goes. 

    Questions 1 and 2 can pass or fail together and Question 1 can pass while Question 2 fails. However, Question 2 cannot pass if Question 1 fails. 

    Lorrain said if both questions fail, the CSD is still looking at $40-45 million worth of repairs, but “everybody agreed we do have to keep an elementary school.”  

    According to Kahler and Lorrain, splitting the vote could make it possible to start needed repairs on the middle-elementary school but allow more time to engage the public, raise funds, or explore regionalization if Question 2 fails. Lorrain said bonding the whole project at once is “much too big of a bite for everybody.” 

    “How do you want to slice the pie?” he said. “We figured a ($28.8) million slice would be more than enough. See how that goes kind of thing and we'll have to see what the results are."