opinion

Dawn Emery: Questions about Camden-Rockport middle school financing, effects on taxpayer

Posted:  Thursday, June 7, 2018 - 9:45am
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I was at the Camden Select Board meeting on June 6 and have been closely following the middle school cost issue.  While I understand that you have all given countless hours to this effort, I must also let you know that it is practically a fulltime job as a taxpayer to keep up with this issue as well.

I am writing because at the end of the meeting, our Superintendent Maria Libby asked if there were ways that the school board could better educate the public, so I’d like to offer some insight about what would help me to make an informed decision next week on June 11and 12, and what some of the sticking points are that have me leaning toward a no vote.

What is the impact on property taxes?

I went to the tax assessor earlier this week to ask how my property taxes would be impacted by the increase cost of the new middle school, and it was impossible for Kerry Leichtman to calculate that figure given the fact that you do not know the interest rate, the amount of value engineering, and full scope/cost of the bond premium.  It would be helpful for the school board to have some of those numbers crunched and a few potential scenarios put forth to voters, so we can make educated decisions (If the bond premium is X, and the interest rate is Y, and the total cost is Z). While I appreciate all of the data and financials shared, they did not go far enough for me to feel comfortable or informed about how this increase will impact my bottom-line property tax bill.  It feels like a scare tactic to say that things will cost more later, because while this is true, in the everyday world I don’t buy a new Subaru because it will cost more tomorrow. I buy a used one that fits my budget.

What is Plan B?

There is a perception that you need to address in that you are not exploring a Plan B.  I’d also ask you to explain that if costs will in fact rise, what will you do with this current plan if the value engineering and bond premium do not work out?  Isn’t this something that should be explored now if the market is so volatile?

Since you have not talked about Plan B, it leaves voters like myself to believe that your only solution will be to borrow more money.  You may read that and think that I’m not for a new middle school, and you would be mistaken. I care deeply about education and know that something must be done to address our middle school facility.

I voted for it last June, but yes, I do still have a bad taste in my mouth about that because of the MET promise, but I will not go down that path in this note to you, other than to say that it would be a great opportunity to include it in a plan B scenario.

How are you addressing the fact that these increases will hurt those who are already living on the edge?

I am concerned with regard to the data that was shared – 25 percent of students in the SAD are eligible for free or reduced lunch.  Again, when I look at those numbers I am worried that the cost of living in Camden and Rockport will rise to such a degree that the students among us, whose families are the most challenged financially, will not be able to benefit from the improved facility, because they will not be able to afford to live here.

While not all may be property owners, increased property taxes will also force our already high rents to soar. That should truly concern us all.  

As a former Camden-Rockport High School student, whose family did not have deep pockets, I worry that these steps to borrow more money will create a vacuum here, and that our school population will lose diversity with regard to socio-economic status. We need to build a school that all families can access if we truly believe that all kids matter.

How will the current and future municipal needs of the town be impacted?

Lastly, I am gravely concerned that the increases to the project costs will have a negative impact on our municipal budget.  I appreciate what Camden Select Board member Bob Falciani so passionately shared June 5 about his concerns, as they echo mine.

I love and care deeply about our beloved library, which we learned last night needs immediate attention.  This is a place where great learning continues post K-12. I am the person Alison McKellar was referencing with regard to a fundraiser for my birthday to support the Camden Public Library. I also a volunteer on the Opera House Committee, another valuable asset in our community that already operates on a very limited budget.  When I look at the big picture, it is clear that in order for our town to continue to develop the Snow Bowl, to upgrade our wastewater facility, to repair and study our dams, and to simply keep our parks and harbor clean and beautiful, taxes will likely need to be raised.

This compounds my first question regarding my tax bill, and further deepens my concern about those who will be fortunate enough to live here in the future.  Many citizens are living on the edge — paycheck to paycheck already.

These are the people who work at the local daycare, at the checkout at Hannaford, and some may even be your neighbors, much like my neighbor who is on a fixed income.  Select board members, I ask that you begin to look at local funding opportunities that will help to shoulder this burden on the most vulnerable of our citizens. The answer cannot always be to add to property tax bills.

I appreciate all the time and effort that the school board and the local select boards have taken to examine this entire issue.  Despite these questions, I truly value all of your incredible volunteer efforts. I am still left wondering if there is not an alternative solution that could be put forward to help make voters feel more comfortable.  

While I understand that the pace at which you are moving forward is nearly light speed, I also want you to understand that this is exactly what makes people feel uncomfortable. You certainly did not rush into the $25 million dollar school proposal, but it does feel, and perceptions are our personal reality, that there has not been enough due diligence to look at alternate options that would be less of a burden to taxpayers given what we know now.

 

Proud graduate of Camden-Rockport High School, believer in education, and concerned taxpayer, Dawn Emery, Camden