EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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December 4, 2012

Officials at odds over capital spending

Putting projects to ballot vote a possibility

ANDOVER — Around $17 million in capital improvement projects are on tap for the next five years, but how they’ll be paid for is up in the air.

Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski presented his five-year capital improvement plan to the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee on Monday.

The plan, spread out over five years, represents nearly $17 million in spending on town projects, land purchases and more.

Seven funding sources among the full list of 38 categories exceed $1 million. The largest among them is $3.2 million requested to fund the town’s “School Site Improvement Plan,” which will replace paved areas around Doherty Middle School in the coming year.

Other projects in the plan include: $2 million in conservation land purchases, $600,000 for a school facility space needs study, $400,000 for replacing the Andover High School tennis courts, $1.3 million for major annual road maintenance and just over $1 million for school capital projects.

As the presentation moved forward, however, how the town will pay for the projects dominated the meeting. Central to the discussion was paying for the projects with non-exempt debt — borrowing money within current taxation levels and with existing revenue — or exempt debt — borrowing money by raising taxes above Proposition 2 1/2 taxation limits.

Among the funding sources outlined in the plan, $1.5 million would be borrowed using exempt debt. $9.7 million would be paid for using existing revenue sources.

Part of the issue for Jon Stumpf, Finance Committee chairman, was how the five-year plan seemingly doubled the town’s existing non-exempt debt by 2018.

“We have to make sure we take into account the taxpayers, how much they’re going to spend,” Stumpf said.

Paying for projects using exempt debt would force an election, where residents would vote for each individual request by ballot in order to approve raising taxes above the 2.5 percent maximum annual tax increase allowed under Proposition 2 1/2.

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