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School committee mulls early MRHS bonding

Date: 11/29/2010

Nov. 29, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM -- The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee laid out its plan for exploring new financing options for the new Minnechaug Regional High School building at its Nov. 24 meeting.

The biggest concern for the committee, according to Chairman Peter Salerno, is transparency of the process for the taxpayers of the two towns who will be directly affected by any decisions made.

"Our intention as the School Committee is to deal with this in an open fashion," Salerno said. "This is what we will do and it is what we have done in the past."

The School Committee and the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) are faced with the decision of whether to take advantage of low current bond rates to finance the school building project.

"We are blessed with favorable bond interest rates. It is prudent for us to consider all cost-saving options today in order to save tomorrow," Salerno said, adding that current rates stand around 4 percent.

Salerno explained that, based on the preliminary data obtained by the School Committee, should the committee and HWRSD decide to finance at the current rates, a home worth $300,000 would be assessed an estimated $250 per year in taxes. Originally, the School Committee projected a home of that value would be assessed between $304 and $321.

The catch for taxpayers, however, is the short-term impact on taxes.

"We were originally projecting taxpayers would be making interest-only payments on the short-term borrowing," HWRSD Super-intendent M. Martin O'Shea said. "This would just mean we would be bonding at an earlier time, which means taxpayers will make principal and interest payments instead of only interest in the first two years."

However, O'Shea said the short-term sacrifice will lead to long-term gains for taxpayers, who will "realize reduced [tax] assessments from the building project for the final 28 years" of the 30-year financing plan.

O'Shea pointed out that municipalities and towns across the state have been changing their borrowing schedules to take advantage of the borrowing climate.

The School Committee announced there will be a special meeting on Nov. 30 at which the committee will make a non-binding vote on whether it will pursue this avenue.

After the meeting, the School Committee will compile the data it has gathered on the bonding possibilities and send it home in a pamphlet to residents of both towns. After that, the committee will hold what O'Shea termed a "budget round table" sometime in January at which residents may offer comments and feedback.

Selectmen from both towns lauded the School Committee for its commitment to keeping the townspeople in the loop with all of the decision making.

"One of the unique things during the planning stages [of the school building project] was the partnership with both communities," Wilbraham Board of Selectman Chairman James Thompson said. "I'm very happy to hear you are going to used the same roadmap again. It's important because when residents were asked to make a decision [on whether to build a new high school], they had a wealth of information to make that decision with and it appears they will again."

Hampden Selectman Richard Green also said he was glad to see the continued transparency, but also asked that the School Committee get the information to the public in a timely fashion as well.

Salerno said he welcomed a continued positive relationship with the elected officials in both towns in order to come up with the best solution for taxpayers.

"This isn't about who gets the credit, but getting what is best for taxpayers in the towns," Salerno said.

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