Board picks tax increase recommendation for new Wareham elementary school

Oct 1, 2018

On Monday, School Building Committee members unanimously recommended a 20-year repayment plan at 3.5 percent interest for the proposed Decas School at Minot Forest. If approved, residents with a home value of $258,000 (the median figure for a single-family home) will see taxes increase $205 per year for 20 years, according to officials. Specifically, taxes would increase 79 cents per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value.

Wareham residents will vote this October whether or not to place a multi-million dollar request for the new elementary school on the local ballot during the state’s Nov. 6 election.

(To determine the annual tax increase for a home, take the home’s assessed value, divide by 1,000, then multiply by .79. Updated home assessments will be posted online the coming months, according to the town’s assessors office.)

The recommendation will now go before the School Committee on Thursday, Oct. 4, for a final vote.

Following that, voters at the Oct. 22 Town Meeting will be asked to approve a debt exclusion question on the Nov. 6 ballot for a town-wide referendum. Officials stressed the Town Meeting vote does not decide whether or not the school will be built, only if it will be placed on the ballot in November. If approved in November, the debt exclusion would raise taxes on Wareham residents to pay for the project for the life of the debt.

The total cost of the project is  $90 million. Because the project is eligible for reimbursement from the state, Wareham’s share of the project would be $39.5 million.    

Plans call for building a school able to accommodate 1,020 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. According to school officials, the new building is needed to replace Minot School, which was closed this summer.

Opened in 1965, the building requires significant upgrades for security, electrical wiring and fire safety. Existing ceilings contain asbestos and the current plumbing system does not meet low-flow or handicap accessibility requirements. Minot would also require extensive foundation work in addition to steel shear bracing and seismic clips throughout as necessary to meet current structural code requirements.

School Building Committee members debated the repayment decision on Monday, weighing options that also included a 25-year and 30-year plan.

While the longer repayment options would have lowered annual payments, board members said the town stood to save $12.7 million in interest payments.

“To pay $28 million versus $15 million is absurd in costs to the town,” said board member and Selectman Patrick Tropeano.

Under the 25-year plan, the annual cost for the median single-family home would have been $181 (70 cents per $1,000 of value) and $168 for the 30-year plan (65 cents per $1,000 of value.)

Board members debated whether or not to recommend the lower monthly payment route, but ultimately decided the slightly higher amount made fiscal sense.

“For the price of two cups of coffee,” said School Committee member Rebekah Pratt, referring to the difference between the 20-year and 30-year repayment options. “We’re going to save the town millions of dollars.”