Haverhill Voter Choices to Have No Effect on New School Tax Total, But Could Allow for Added Spending

Architect’s rendering of planned new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School.

A new $160 million Dr. Albert B. Consentino School is coming no matter what, and Haverhill taxpayers will pay the same amount of money to build it no matter what voters decide in June.

Haverhill Director of Finance Angel Perkins made the total clear during a presentation before the Haverhill School Committee last week. She made clear, however, voter approval would give city officials the capacity to pay for other projects the city wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

“The payment itself is going to cost the taxpayer the same, whether it’s within the levy or excluded. If we funded it from within the levy limit, and then the entire available $4 million in levy was spent, that would result in about another $200 per year in taxes for the average single-family home. The other scenario, if we did a debt exclusion and $9 million was taxed, that would add about $400,” she said.

Perkins was responding to a question posed by Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti, asking about the upshot of potential voter approval of relief from the state’s tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½.

Last December, the Haverhill City Council voted to have a special election Tuesday, June 6, allowing residents to decide between allowing a temporary debt-exclusion or making room within the city budget, including potential property tax increases up to the current state cap.

Perkins noted, with the increase reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the city’s annual debt payment will come in at little more than $5 million per year, based on a projected interest rate of 5% over 30 years.

For his part, Mayor James J. Fiorentini has opposed the idea of a debt exclusion, instead touting a plan to use money gained by retiring the Hale Hospital debt along with the city’s levy reserve—that is, the difference between what the city is taxing residents and the maximum it could tax under the Proposition 2 ½ limit.

Critics, however, say that approach could leave the city hamstrung in its ability to pay for other projects as they come up. Committee member Richard J. Rosa expounded on that viewpoint.

“For me, I think the mistake is to think about the debt exclusion in terms of just the Consentino. If residents are concerned about crime and policing, then that is what this debt exclusion is about. If residents are concerned about fire safety and the fire department, that’s what this vote is about. If they’re concerned about affordable housing for our senior citizens and for others, that’s what this vote’s about,” he explained.

Rosa said the important thing is not to make a decision that will hamstring the city, causing it to have to make cuts in spending further down the road.

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