A year removed from a $1.88 million Proposition 2 ½ override for its operating budget, the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District is coming back to voters in those towns seeking a $1,241,000 debt exclusion that would raise property taxes for 10 years.
Wenham residents will be asked for their support at Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, May 2, while Hamilton has its Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 4. If the property tax hikes make it through town meeting, they would have to pass townwide votes at elections scheduled for May 14.
Paul Szymanski, assistant superintendent for finance and administration, said the money would fund capital projects for improvements and repairs at school buildings in the district, as well as roof repairs for the central administration building. The work addresses some overdue needs, he said.
"Deferred maintenance is going to cost communities," he said. "Our hope is that this plan will get us to the point where [maintenance] is manageable. This is an opportunity that is long overdue."
In meetings with town officials, Szymanski has said that it may be possible to combine old and new debt, restructuring it so that the district's annual payment may actually be the same or lower. That's one reason Hamilton's Finance Committee has supported the proposal, according to acting chairman Bob Bullivant.
"We're long overdue in terms of deferred maintenance in schools," he said. "Like the town, [the district] hasn't had the budget flexibility to include maintenance projects in its operating budget."
Exactly how much the two communities would have to pay is will change from year to year according to the enrollment ratio, according to Hamilton Town Administrator Candace Wheeler.
Residents in Wenham will be asked to support not just the school district's measure, but also a town-sponsored one-year, $64,500 capital override for the purchase of computers, catch basin work, a plow, and a DPW truck.
While admitting that this is a tough climate in which to seek a tax hike, Wenham Board of Selectman Chairman John Clemenzi said it is needed.
"We have done everything in our power to reduce the budget significantly," said Clemenzi, noting that the proposed fiscal year 2010 budget is lower than the budget for the current fiscal year.