CAMDEN, Maine — The proposed $28 million school bond residents are scheduled to vote on in fewer than three months has officials of Camden and Rockport concerned about the cost of the project and the timing of the ballot.
Members of the select boards from Camden and Rockport met with school officials Monday evening to go over the proposed bond referendum that would pay for a new middle school, renovate part of the current structure and make renovations to the bus garage.
Camden Select Board Chairman John French Jr. pointed out Wednesday the referendum would increase taxes for Camden property owners by $81 for every $100,000 of assessed property. In Rockport, that increase would be even greater: $87 per $100,000.
French said many homes in the two towns are assessed for $200,000 or more, which means these homeowners would pay at least $162 more in property taxes just to pay for the new school. The current tax rate in Camden is $14.43, meaning a resident with a home assessed at $200,000 could see their tax bill jump to more than $3,200 annually, barring any other increases.
“That’s a big hit for one year,” French said. “That doesn’t even take into account any increases in the school operations budget, the municipal budget or the county budget.”
French said he is not sure whether it makes sense to build a new school. He said he wanted to research the matter more before making up his mind.
The veteran select board member said he also was disappointed the bond referendum would be held Feb. 10 rather than at the regular June election, when more people would likely turn out to vote.
Rockport Select Board Chairman William Chapman said he, too, wants the vote to be held in June. Chapman said 72 percent of town voters turned out in November because of the many state and local issues on the ballot. He said he was concerned a single-issue ballot would attract far fewer voters.
The single-issue election also would cost the taxpayers a couple of thousand dollars, he said.
“I’m not sure what the sense of urgency is,” Chapman said.
Chapman acknowledged he did not attend Monday night’s informational meeting but questioned why a new school was needed when the towns have invested millions of dollars in the existing middle school building.
School Administrative District 28 Board Chairman Matthew Dailey said he is checking with other members of the school board to see whether there is interest in moving the referendum from February to June. Dailey said one reason the February date was scheduled was because it aligned with a construction schedule that would take advantage of the summer construction season.
Dailey also has said weather should not be a problem with the current date. People can vote by absentee ballot leading up to Feb. 10, and he pointed out turnout was strong in the November election, even though a snow and ice storm knocked out electricity for much of the two towns.
The school board has said the new school is necessary because the existing one is in need of costly repairs. The current middle school is a patchwork of buildings not designed to function as one school, the district has maintained. Officials have said it would cost less to build a new 84,000-square-foot school than to renovate the old buildings. Renovations also would not address the traffic flow and pedestrian safety issues of the current arrangement, according to officials.
The current school is directly adjacent to Knowlton Street. The proposed school, which would be able to accommodate 400 students, would be set back more from the road.
In addition to covering the cost of building the new school, the bond money would pay for renovating the Mary E. Taylor School, built in 1925, for administrative offices as well as adult and alternative education programs. The remaining part of the middle school building would be torn down.
The bond also would pay for renovations to the bus garage building, which is used, in part, for administrative offices. The changes would allow for more space for buses.
Furniture for the new school also would be covered under the bond, though the school district has said it would reuse any furniture that is in good shape.
A public hearing on the bond issue is scheduled for Feb. 2.
The plan is for the school, which serves students from Camden and Rockport, to open in September 2017.