August 19, 2019

Houlton Town Council, SAD 29 unite to support phased project financing

HOULTON — In a rare moment, members of the Town Council attended the SAD 29 board meeting Monday night to show united support for a phased financing plan to pay for renovations to Houlton High School.

The district has already proposed a $3.5 million bond issue for the work. In Houlton, which pays 77 percent of the costs in the four-town district, officials are concerned that the additional $1.70 per $1,000 in valuation that would have to be raised in local property taxes each year for 20 years to pay for the bond would be economically stifling.

School district and town representatives have been meeting to seek alternative ways of financing the project. As a result, it has been determined that it could be done in phases over a 10- to 15-year period.

Instead of a bond, district towns would raise the money by adding an extra mill on the tax rate each year. In that way, they would not have to pay interest on a bond, which could push the total cost over 20 years to $5.5 million.

Houlton Town Manager Allan Bean said no one disputed that badly needed work had to be done at the 40-year-old school, which he described as “an albatross around our neck, economically.”

Bean said officials in the towns of Hammond, Littleton and Monticello also had indicated interest in the alternative funding option.

School board Chairwoman Elizabeth Childers praised the effort between the two bodies to come up with a palatable funding solution. She described the cooperation as “refreshing” and “a step forward.”

The school board has not yet decided if it will recommend the bond issue or the phased-funding option. On April 28, the board will make a formal proposal for funding the renovation project to the Town Council and ask for council support.

In a related matter, Childers drew attention to LD 1099, a bill that has been proposed in the Legislature that would provide state funds for school districts to help pay for renovations.

Up to $150,000 could be given to school systems annually under the plan, with the school system providing a 50 percent match, she said.

With a phased project, she said SAD 29 would be in an excellent position to take advantage of such a program.

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