Falmouth school needs new roof, heating system

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FALMOUTH — Voters in June may be asked to approve paying for structural and heating system improvements at Falmouth Middle School.

The School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday night, with David Snow dissenting, to send the Town Council two referendum questions for replacement of the school’s heating system and improvements to the roof and several classrooms.

By another 6-1 vote, the board approved a more than 4 percent increase in the fiscal 2014 school budget.

The first referendum question, as proposed by the School Board, seeks approval of a $3.25 million capital project to replace the heating system.

Dan O’Shea, director of finance and operations for the district, said this is the more critical of the two questions, because the heating system was installed in 1955 and is 20 years past replacement.

“Question 1 is critical to be approved by voters in June,” O’Shea said Tuesday night. “We are seeing increasing maintenance issues, some that we can chase and others that we cannot.”

The major problem with the heating system, according to Topper West, director of transportation and maintenance, is that it has become difficult to find parts.

“If your grandchildren are in this school, they are using the same (heating) system that you used,” board member Lucy Tucker said.

The second question proposes spending $1.75 million to replace two sections of roof at the school and to upgrade the science and music rooms.

O’Shea said only the roof needs to be completed before the start of the next school year; renovations on the science and music rooms could be delayed a for a year, if necessary.

“The roof requires substantial structural improvements (to meet current codes),” he said.

Board member Andrew Kinley said the Facilities Committee decided to separate the two questions because the first question is critical to operation of the school and shouldn’t carry any of the “baggage” the second question might bring.

“The first question must pass or there will not be heat in that school for next year,” Kinley said.

Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers said the capital improvements may seem expensive, but they will be a one-time major expenditure.

“This isn’t asking for $5 million now and then $10 million next year,” Powers said. “This is what needs to be done (to bring the building up to code).”

School budget

O’Shea also presented an update on the proposed school budget for the 2014 fiscal year that reflects changes in state funding. It asks voters to approve just over a 4 percent increase, to $30.2 million, over this year’s $29 million.

The board had been trying to keep the increase between 2 and 3 percent, but a shift of $300,000 in retirement funding from the state to the town added an additional 1 percent.

O’Shea said the spending is in line with surrounding communities and limits the rise in taxes over the last five years.

The increase in this year’s budget would  lead to a property tax rate of $10.45 per $1,000 of property value, or an increase of $61 per $100,000 of property value.

On April 1 the Finance Committee learned that the district would receive $30,000 less than originally expected in state general purpose aid. But contingency funds are enough to cover the loss.

“We are doing as much as we can with what we an control,” Board member Dee Conroy-Vella said. “We are working to make sure all of the town’s money that they are giving us works for their kids and it is challenging. The punches keep coming.”

The board voted 6-1 to send the budget to the Town Council for final approval, with Snow opposed.

A public forum on both the school and municipal budgets will be held on April 10 at 7 p.m. in the Falmouth Elementary School cafeteria.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.

Sidebar Elements

Municipal spending to remain flat

FALMOUTH — Town officials say residents will not see “any significant increase” in their taxes from the fiscal year 2014 municipal budget.

“I am pleased to report that this budget will not have any impact on the municipal portion of the mil rate,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said in a memorandum to town councilors. “This has been accomplished without any significant changes to municipal services.”

The proposed operating budget for the town will be just over $11.1 million, an $80,000 increase over the current fiscal year budget. The increase amounts to a 0.01 percent increase in the town’s mil rate, bringing it to $3.02 per $1,000.

That brings the municipal share of property taxes on a $200,000 home to $604 for fiscal 2014. If the school budget is approved by voters, the total municipal, school and county tax bite would be $2,826, according to Poore.

The municipal mil rate will not have the only impact on taxes this budget year. The School Board’s mil rate will combine with the municipal mil rate for the final tax figures.

According to Poore, the minimal increase was the result of a temporary $100,000 cut in open space funding, which will be revisited in the third year of the town’s capital improvement plan. He said the town also saved money on fuel costs and workers compensation.

Poore also said the town is hoping to add revenue by increasing fees for adult education and some recreation programs. In addition to the increased fees, the town is seeing an upswing in the number of building permits and plumbing inspections, but Poore said these increases will be “washed out” with an anticipated reduction in automobile excise tax.

The biggest increase in this year’s budget is a 4.7 percent increase in personnel costs, which includes wage increases and a major increase in health-care costs. The 12.5 percent increase in health-care costs is due to an increase in insurance premiums.

The public will have the opportunity to comment on both the municipal and school budget’s at a public hearing scheduled for April 10 at 7 p.m. at Falmouth Elementary School.

The budget will be adopted by the Town Council on April 22, ahead of the school budget referendum vote in June. If approved by voters, the budget takes effect July 1.

— Amber Cronin

This story was edited on April 4, 2013, to correct the property tax impact of the municipal budget.