The Tisbury select board voted 2-0 Wednesday, July 27, to hold a special one-item town meeting at the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs on Sept. 20. The sole business of the special meeting, as town counsel David Doneski put it, is a “supplemental appropriation” of $26 million for the Tisbury School project.
Tisbury voters have already approved $55 million for the project. In a lengthy report to the board, Mike Owen, CHA senior project manager, explained the project has been beset by intense materials inflation as well as supply chain issues and these have torpedoed the project’s budget. That has translated into nearly a 50 percent cost increase and brought the total budget to the cusp of $82 million. The Times first reported the new budget numbers on Wednesday and that prompted significant attendance on the select board Zoom.
Asked by finance committee member Nancy Gilfoy what happens if voters reject the $26 million request, Tisbury School building committee chair Mike Watts, who was present on the Zoom with other school officials, said that would create a problem. No matter what happens, Watts said the town presently has “a very sick building” that doesn’t meet educational needs.
“I think if we don’t get the money,” Watts said, “we have $10 to $15 million dollars that are just sunk, gone, and we haven’t solved the problem of our sick building and I don’t mean to paint it as dire but really, that’s where we are. And so we’re in a little bit of a rock and a hard place without [moving] forward with the project with a lot of money really heavily committed.”
Select board member John Cahill asked what the $26 million would mean for taxes as calculated for a median home in Tisbury.
“For the original project at $55 million we were looking at tax bills going up an average of about 10 percent,” Treasurer Jonathan Snyder said. “If it’s going to be a total of $86 million, or thereabouts, the tax bills would go up roughly 15.5 percent from where they are right now. So it’s not insignificant.”
Snyder later clarified the $86 million denoted a total bond liability, including $5 million in paving borrowing not associated with the school project, but nonetheless a figure that would impact tax bills.
Snyder told the board a median home in Tisbury was valued at $744,000, meaning half the town’s homes are valued higher than that figure and half are valued lower than that figure.
“That median tax bill is $6,472,” he said. “If we increase that by 15.6 percent, you get $7,482. So $1,000 more.”
“For 30 years?” Cahill asked.
“Yes,” Snyder said.
In a Friday email to The Times, Snyder clarified the tax bump wouldn’t amount to an extra $1,000, but would amount to $1,000 overall in additional taxes.
“The project approved by taxpayers would have cost $55 million, which for the median residential property would cost an additional $700 per year in property tax,” Snyder wrote. “The additional $26 million cost to complete the project will add an additional $327 per year for the median residential property. In all, the school project will add $1,027 per year for the median property.”
In response to a question from planning board member Ben Robinson of how comfortable the select board was with asking voters for the additional money, Cahill said, “Am I comfortable? No. Will I get there? I hope to. It’s just a lot of money. Whether it’s inflation, you want to blame it on that, or whatever you want to say the causes are, we have to consider all of our residents in this town. It’s such a significant number…that’s not chump change for a lot of people in this town and they’re going to have to carry that for a long time. I just hope we’re all doing our homework and we’re looking at it from the taxpayers side as well.”
In response to the same question, Roy Cutrer acting chair, said, “Am I comfortable? If I look at the alternative — not having the new Tisbury School, and what that means to the community, if I look at what we’ve already spent trying to reach that goal of having the new school for the town of Tisbury, it’s a tough question. But you know, yes, we have to do what’s best for the town in this situation and not moving forward is just taking and wasting money, wasting millions — $10 to $15 million dollars…So I don’t think wasting $10 to $15 million dollars is the way we want to go either…”
In an attempt to avert having to take the $26 million to the ballot box, when and if town meeting voters approve that sum, the board voted 2-0 to authorize a CHA report to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) which breaks down all the swollen costs.
If the DOR grants authorization, the $26 million would be considered an extension of the $55 million voters previously approved at a town meeting and at the polls. If the extension is rejected by DOR, the $26 million request must be addressed in a special town election. On the advice of town administrator Jay Grande, the board didn’t set a date for a special town selection. Grande said Town Clerk Hilary Conklin was unable to attend the meeting and he wants her present and able to contribute her thoughts when such a date is selected. Grande said he expected the board will be able to address the date at an Aug. 3 board meeting.
In other business, after some friction between Cahill and Cutrer, the board voted 2-0 to approved two slates of zoning board of appeals (ZBA) members: Jeff Kristal and Akyah Lucas to five-year terms and Frank Piccione, Brandon Smith, Rick Homans, and Lesley Segal to one-year terms. Cahill said he found it confusing why different folks were selected for different terms and wanted to discuss the issue ahead of any votes. Cutrer wasn’t interested in doing that.
Human resources coordinator Pam Bennett explained in part that ZBA prospects were assigned based on the terms they were willing to commit to.
Updated to clarify the tax implications -Ed.