The Andover Finance Committee began discussing the question of “How much debt is too much debt for Andover taxpayers?” at its meeting (video) Thursday.

“What is the total amount of debt we as a community are comfortable with?” committee member Aaron Buzay said. “Given that we’re considering building a new high school…what’s the comfort level of the residents? Where is the perceived breaking point?”

During an update on the tax classification process from Andover Chief Financial Officer Patrick Lawler, committee members raised concerns that debt for the new Andover High School project would be too big of an increase to tax bills for voters to stomach. While the AHS Building Committee has yet to discuss the cost of replacing or renovating the school, the town is moving forward without state assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Of the four boards that made recommendations leading to last month’s Special Town Meeting approval of $16.4 million to cover cost overruns at the West Elementary School building project, the finance committee was the only one to debate the warrant articles at length. While the finance committee unanimously voted to recommend approval, it raised concerns about how the project is being managed and suggesting delaying the project until construction costs and interest rates come down

“My concern is if the town is of the view ‘We cannot stomach this,’ the outcome is ‘Okay, we’ll just zero the school budget’,” committee member Andy McBrien said Thursday. “My concern is if the town were of the view — and this is purely a hypothetical — ‘We cannot stomach [the total tax rate]. We’re going to vote down the high school. I know we need the high school, but we’re going to vote it down’.”

Buzay said the committee should press the building committee to present breakdowns of property tax impacts for the different options it is considering.

“I think at some point we have to have a kitchen table conversation” with the Andover High School building committee, Buzay said. “We have to be able to say if you choose to have a parking garage — which is part of the conversation — or you choose to have a campus, this could be the net impact on your tax bill, or if you choose to do something more modest, this will be the impact. Either way, this is going to have an impact.”

One thought on “How Much Debt Is Too Much For Andover Taxpayers?”
  1. Kudos to the Finance Committee for calling out the elephant climbing into the budget—the proposed new high school.

    The high school building committee is being devious in not frankly discussing even initial planning cost estimates with taxpayers and the Finance Committee. The Town should not take on another massive debt for a new high school now, when the building committee is plowing ahead even after failing to get support from the state and too soon on the heels of the massive debt obligations just taken on by the Town for the Pension Obligation Bond and the new West Elementary School, the full effects of which we have not yet even felt in property taxes.

    The AEA should speak out against a new high school right now, too. If this happens now—the biggest financial obligation ever undertaken by the Town—pressure to reduce budget spending has to follow and that could prevent fair/competitive salary increases for school employees.

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