RSU 5 board sends $3M bond to voters in Freeport, Pownal, Durham

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FREEPORT — Residents of Freeport, Pownal and Durham will vote June 14 on a nearly $3 million athletic facility, infrastructure renovations and improvements at Freeport High School.

The Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors voted 7-3 on March 23 to send the bond to the public.

The item was listed on the board agenda under unfinished business as an update on the fields and grounds proposal – a campus complex including an eight-lane track, artificial turf field, bleachers, lights, a press box, concessions and sound system.

But board member John Morang of Freeport offered a motion to vote on the referendum.

Board member Brenda Kielty of Freeport did not attend the meeting, and Durham residents Jane Blias and Cori Holt and Pownal resident John Green voted against the motion to send the bond to referendum.

Kelly Wentworth, director of finance and human resources, said the initial interest payment on the 15-year, $2.9 million bond would be $56,000. The next payment in fiscal year 2013 would be about $299,000, she said.

Each year the bond payments will be shared by the taxpayers in all three communities, based on the RSU 5 cost-sharing agreement, Wentworth said. Durham is responsible for 21.42 percent of the bond, Pownal would pay 12.60 percent, and Freeport’s share is 65.98 percent.

The average interest rate is 3.5 percent and the total cost over 15 years is about $3.8 million, she said.

“I don’t think this is something Durham is interested in,” Blais said.

She said Durham residents are concerned about the cost and do not think now is the right time to move forward with a project of this scope.

Green said there are similar concerns in Pownal and although the project is “pretty well thought out,” he would like to get a better sense of how the public feels before supporting a referendum.

Holt said while there is a need for a new facility, Durham residents do not consider the project a priority at this time. She also said she is concerned that Pownal and Durham will be forced to pay for the bond even if they do not support the referendum, since Freeport has a larger population.

“As we’ve seen in previous tax seasons, both Pownal and Durham can vote down something and yet they’re still attached to the financial obligations with it, and so that’s why I am voting against it,” Holt said.

Chairman Nelson Larkins said there is a lot of community support for the project. He also said construction and interest costs are low.

“There is no time is like the present when you are proposing a budget that reduces the tax burden on the three communities,” Larkins said. “The first payment is paid for by the cost savings realized by the three towns and if you don’t take the bull by the horns, it just never happens.”

Board member Peter Murray of Freeport said he supports a referendum vote, but is concerned about ongoing capital costs associated with the school, student capacity issues, safety concerns and aesthetics.

Vice Chairman Eric Dube of Pownal voted in support of the motion. He said the athletic facility is for the residents of all three towns.

“Voters should be allowed to make a say in this,” Dube said. “Let them make the final decision.”

The referendum language was amended in a 10-0 vote to remove a sentence indicating the School Board recommends a yes vote.

The next RSU 5 meeting will be April 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the Freeport High School cafeteria.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson

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