Auditorium Study Committee Chairman Tony DeFrancesco argues that an increase in taxes shouldn’t dissuade residents from supporting construction of a community auditorium at the high school.
In an update to the School Board on the activities and progress of the Auditorium Study Committee, DeFrancesco said he continues to hear from residents who say they can’t afford a tax increase.
“According to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), and this is un-equalized – some places assess differently than others – south of Concord on the I-93 corridor only three of 23 towns we looked at have lower tax rates than Londonderry,” DeFrancesco told the Board.
Londonderry’s un-equalized tax rate is $21.09 per $1,000, compared with $29.42 in Derry and $29.51 in Bow, DeFrancesco said of figures in the DRA’s Dec. 5 report.
“This is a full-service community. It’s not cheap to live in, but for a full-service community, our tax rate is pretty good,” DeFrancesco said. “People say our tax rate is so high, but it’s just not compared with other full-service communities.”
But board member Dan Lekas said he has heard many residents argue that just because Londonderry may not spend as much as other communities, that doesn’t mean it should, or that it has to do so.
“I’m falling into that category,” he said.
“That’s someone who has listened, has paid attention and their opinion is they don’t want to spend any more money. That’s a philosophical question you have to have. You get back to needs and wants,” DeFrancesco said.
“We’re confident we’ve proved it’s a need. Some people still think it’s a want. I don’t know how you could read the report and still say it’s a want.”
When asked if the subcommittee is amenable to changing the design proposed for the auditorium, DeFrancesco said he met with a local resident who wants to build a civic center, and while he doesn’t believe the Town is in the position to do so and thinks decisions regarding design need to be made and respected, “a line hasn’t been drawn in the sand.”
“I’m just a volunteer basically working for you guys. If we decide at some point we want to make some changes, that’s certainly your right to do that,” he said. “We encourage people to ask questions by emailing email@example.com.”
Board member John Laferriere noted that a warrant article for $500,000 for architectural fees will be on the ballot in March, and if the project goes through the architectural component, then the total cost to build would be on the next year’s ballot, with the Auditorium Study Committee to come in with a design and guaranteed maximum price in September or October.
If the Board were to accept that maximum price, that is the price-tag that would go to the voters.
According to School District Business Administrator Peter Curro, “FY17 is the last year for the middle school note of about $500,000.
“The interest cost would go up,” Curro said. “We’re paying almost no interest, as we’re getting to the end of the middle school note. It would be almost $400,000 for the first year of interest for the auditorium, and it goes down as you pay the bond. We can assume, hopefully, interest rates will stay where they’re at over the next 24 months. From what I’ve heard from the auditor, our rating should be really good.”
On Jan. 8, the Board will have an opportunity to finalize questions on the budget and the Budget Committee will have a chance to address the warrant articles.
“I will have an update for you on interest rates and interest rate trends,” Curro said. “It’s not perfect, but it gives an idea of what it’ll look like if everything goes according to plan.”
DeFrancesco noted the valuation of the Town may change with new construction on Pettengill Road, but board member Steve Young warned that due to a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District authorized for that area, increases in assessment due to new construction there won’t necessarily help offset the District’s tax rate.
“The TIF District takes away from our side of the pair of pants,” Young said. “The money’s not ours until it’s ours.”
Young also raised concern with the Auditorium Committee’s efforts to advocate for the new auditorium in the community, visiting school Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and speaking at community events.
“Legally we are not allowed to be a proponent,” Young said, noting School District funds may not be used to advocate for the auditorium before it goes to the voters.
Superintendent Nate Greenberg said because DeFrancesco’s group is an independent committee using funds raised through a registered non-profit, the Auditorium Study Committee may speak in favor of the auditorium.
“The committee has assiduously been following the rules,” he said, noting the message is for residents to become well informed on all issues related to the proposed auditorium.
“We hear from a lot of people in favor of the auditorium and there continue to be a lot of people not in favor of the auditorium. We’re working to get the right information out there,” DeFrancesco said, noting the volunteer group has decided to hold back on fundraising until they see the response from the electorate in March.
“There are still checks coming in from all over the place. Friends of Music has set up a separate account in their 501c3 and everything coming in is fully accountable,” he said noting the committee remains resolute in its conviction that “this project is the right size, the right price, the right location and the right time.”
“This is the right next step for the Town of Londonderry and we are surging forward,” he said.