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March 25, 2014

Council to consider Hunking financing

Tax-increasing vote fornew school to be scheduled

HAVERHILL — It’s finally here.

Tonight, City Council will consider a request from Mayor James Fiorentini to schedule a special election June 10 to ask voters to temporarily raise their property taxes to build a $61.5 million school in the city’s Bradford section.

The election would be nearly three years after half of Hunking Middle School was closed due to fears a portion of the building could collapse.

Repairs were made in 2011, but the building is expected to be usable for only two or three more years. About 450 students attend the existing grade-six-to-eight-school, which was built in 1959.

The city plans to replace the school with a 148,000-square-foot building for up to 1,005 students in kindergarten through grade eight. It would be next door to the existing school and include two levels.

The city must raise about $24 million for the project. The state has agreed to pay the rest.

Fiorentini said the proposed debt exclusion won’t actually increase taxes because current payments on the debt for two elementary schools built 20 years ago are about to expire. The plan, he said, is to continue those payments for another 20 years to pay for the Hunking replacement.

Voters, however, still must agree to extend those payments, which currently amount to $67 a year for the average homeowner, the mayor said.

“We will be coming with our hats in our hand and politely and respectfully asking for consideration,” Fiorentini said.

The mayor said he will leave the majority of tonight’s pitch to School Superintendent James Scully and a group of parents who are leading the campaign for a new school.

“I’ve been here since 2002 and this is easily the most important decision the city has had to make about its school system in that time,” Scully said.

City Council President John Michitson said he is concerned the proposed ballot question does not include a specific amount of money the city intends to raise in taxes by excluding the project from the constraints of the Proposition 2-1/2 law. That law limits how much a community can raise taxes in a given year.

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