March 5 Bristol-Plymouth vote is just the start. Then how to pay for $305M project?

·4 min read

TAUNTON — If voters say "yes" to the $305 million project to raze and rebuild Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School, further votes may loom to pay for it.

The top-line $305 million figure gets headlines, but taxpayers in the seven participating cities and towns would be on the hook for just under 60% of that, or $180 million. The rest would be paid via a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, funded with tax dollars from across the Commonwealth.

Located in Taunton, B-P serves Taunton, Berkley, Bridgewater, Dighton, Middleboro, Raynham and Rehoboth. The proposal is to demolish the current cramped, out-of-date B-P facility and construct a new state-of-the-art school building.

Patrick Dello Russo, chief financial officer for the City of Taunton, listens to a question regarding the Bristol-Plymouth project on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Taunton City Hall.
Patrick Dello Russo, chief financial officer for the City of Taunton, listens to a question regarding the Bristol-Plymouth project on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Taunton City Hall.

Municipalities would have to decide how to raise their portions. Each municipality has a different financial picture, but one likely outcome is another vote by residents to take on debt beyond the state's statutory 2.5% limit. That option is called a debt exclusion. Some of the money could come out of each city and town's general fund. There are other funding options as well, such as bonding.

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How to pay for it was the tricky question Taunton City Council President Phil Duarte sought to shed light on Tuesday by bringing in the city's top bean counters.

Impact on city services without a debt exclusion

Chief Financial Officer Patrick Dello Russo and Budget Director Gill Enos laid out the impact if the city tried to pay its share without seeking a debt exclusion.

That picture is dire.

In fiscal 2026, for instance, it would add $4.2 million to the city budget. Offsetting an amount that high would require deep cuts to every category of city services. The numbers drew audible gasps from some city councilors.

"I appreciate the numbers," said City Councilor David Pottier, "but we'd be boarding up City Hall, fire stations, because we can't make do on 25% less operating costs."

Taunton City Councilor David Pottier
Taunton City Councilor David Pottier

Scare tactics?

City Councilor Estele Borges, a key figure in the B-P debate given that she also represents Taunton on the B-P School Committee, accused Dello Russo and Enos of making the numbers look frightening.

"There's been a lot of numbers that have been thrown out tonight and a lot of it to me is just a scare tactic," said Borges, a B-P graduate.

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She highlighted that after the MSBA would pay $125 million, B-P cities and towns would be responsible for $180M. Taunton's share of that would be 41%, she said. That's roughly $73 million.

File photo: Estele Borges at Weir Riverfront Park on Sept. 7, 2021.
File photo: Estele Borges at Weir Riverfront Park on Sept. 7, 2021.

Enos said it was simply information.

"We're not for or against the project," Enos said. We're just presenting the numbers."

Gill Enos, budget director for the City of Taunton, explains a point regarding the Bristol-Plymouth project to city councilors on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Taunton City Hall.
Gill Enos, budget director for the City of Taunton, explains a point regarding the Bristol-Plymouth project to city councilors on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Taunton City Hall.

State will pick up 40% of tab

Municipalities will not have to lay out the entire $305 million before being reimbursed. Instead, the MSBA would pay every month for more of a "pay as you go" approach, according to the frequently asked questions section of the B-P site.

Voters get an up-or-down vote on the project on Saturday, March 5. Polls will be open in the seven member communities from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In Taunton, early voting in person and "no excuse" vote by mail will not be offered. The deadline for residents to request an absentee ballot by mail is Tuesday, March 1. Such requests can be made until noon on Friday, March 4 in person at the Election Department office.

If all goes to schedule, the improved B-P could open in September 2025, according to B-P. Phase 2 of the project — knocking down the old building and adding new athletic fields, would be complete in spring 2026.

This rendering shows Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School's proposed new building.
This rendering shows Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School's proposed new building.

Tax bite

The district's project consultants estimated in a recent presentation that the yearly property tax impact on the average single-family home in each community would be over 30 years, assuming an interest rate of 3.526%:

Berkley: $285

Bridgewater: $131

Dighton: $241

Middleboro: $178

Raynham: $217

Rehoboth: $110

Taunton: $194

Source: Bristol-Plymouth Vocational Technical High School

Send your news tips to reporter Chris Helms by email at CHelms@tauntongazette.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette.

This article originally appeared on The Taunton Daily Gazette: Taunton: Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School vote is March 5