School Committee convenes with Select Board over rising debt

By Betsy Levinson -
December 15, 2022

The Select Board invited the School Committee to join a discussion about large capital projects (over $5M) and the related debt obligations that will face residents.

Though there are big-ticket projects that need attention, such as a new public works barn and fire station, the focus last week was on the new middle school and the Jan. 17, 2023 special Town Meeting to increase the total school project budget by $7.2 million.

Select Board member Mary Hartman wanted assurances that there would be “no surprises” facing Concord taxpayers.

Board member Henry Dane said it was difficult to plan any other capital projects because of “the elephant in the room,” or the middle school.

Resident Sandy Smith called for an effort to “broaden the market” for selling bonds for the school construction project, which swelled from $102.8M last winter to $110M after an estimate last fall.

Smith mentioned “mini munis,” or smaller dollar denominations for bonds that could be purchased in increments of $500 instead of the more usual $5,000. He said it had an appeal to a wider market and might stimulate local support.

Another strategy would be to lengthen the term of the debt from 25 to 30 years, which would lower the annual tax.

Bob LaLecheur from the town’s finance department noted that the debt for the $102.8M budget that already passed Town Meeting is an estimated $1,050 for 25 years at 5.25 percent interest; and an additional estimated $80 annual increase for the $7.2M to be decided in January for 25 years, and $73 at 5.25 percent for 30 years.

If Town Meeting fails to pass the article at the meeting or at the subsequent ballot vote on Feb. 16, the Building Committee would start the process over since they have said they couldn’t cut the budget to meet the estimated $102.8M and maintain the educational program the town wants.

A new estimate, at the 90 percent completion level, is due in January.

Select Board member Terri Ackerman noted that the school would last for 50 years, so offering the 30-year bonds made sense.

Hartman said there may likely be less operating cost since the two current buildings, Sanborn and Peabody, will be consolidated. Select Board Chairman Matt Johnson said Peabody, the building that will be vacated, is assessed at under $10 million.

Dane noted it is an 18-acre lot “with frontage on two roads” for which there are “about 30 proposals for municipal projects.”