Construction on a new $104.5 million Franklin High School is scheduled to begin in the fall after residents voted Tuesday to override Proposition 2 1/2 by a nearly four-to-one margin.
With nearly 50 percent of the town’s voters going to the polls, 7,988 were in favor of the override for the town’s $49 million share of the project, while 1,982 were opposed.
Owners of a home valued at $352,700, the average in town, will pay an additional $260 in taxes starting in 2017 and ending in 2040, according to Town Administrator Jeffrey D. Nutting.
The state will pick up the remaining cost of the new school, which should be completed within two years on land now used for baseball and softball fields next to the current facility.
When Gertrude Rossi died at age 85 last September, the deferred property taxes on her Needham home finally came due.
Thirteen years earlier, Rossi had signed on to a little-known state program that allows low-income senior citizens to defer their property taxes until they either sell their homes or die.
The final bill from Needham was about $55,270 in back taxes — plus $29,670 in interest accrued since 1996.
The tab was paid in October by her daughter, Leigh Rossi Doukas, who lives in Needham and expresses frustration with how local officials handle the deferral arrangement.
Voters in Needham and Norfolk approved multi-million dollar property tax overrides to pay for school construction projects today, the latest in a string of votes in cash-strapped communities seeking more money to pay for new buildings and better services.
In Needham, 56-percent of voters backed a property tax override to fund a $27.4 million renovation at the Newman Elementary School.
The renovation will replace a temporary heating, air conditioning and ventilation system that was put in place two years ago after an older system failed. The project also includes building code and disability upgrades, new ceilings and sprinklers, kitchen improvements, new lighting and sound systems for the auditorium, renovations to nursing, guidance and administration offices, and modular classrooms to accommodate students during the construction.
"We’re thrilled,” said School Committee Chair Joseph Barnes. “We’re very thankful as a committee that the people of the town continue to support education, and that’s what makes Needham a very special place.”
The debt-exclusion override will allow Needham to raise taxes only long enough to pay off the construction loan, and the increase will vary each year. According to the town’s Finance Department, a taxpayer owning a house valued at $693,458, the average assessment in Needham, will pay $36 more in the first year and an additional $196 in the most expensive year.
Although the full price tag was included on the ballot, the town will only have to pay for about $18.8 million, with the rest being reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
In Norfolk, meanwhile, just under 57-percent of of voters approved a $37 million project to replace the 60-year-old Freeman-Centennial Elementary School, which serves third- through sixth-graders. A little more than $17 million will come from a reimbursement grant from the School Building Authority.
A $10 million Norfolk public safety building, which was retooled and rethought - and the price reduced - after a similar effort last year, failed by just 29 votes, 1553-to-1524. Another measure which would have approved $200,000 for a stabilization account dedicated solely to road repair also crashed and burned in a major way, by a vote of 1,700 votes to 1,376 votes.
The average impact in the first year, if all three articles had passed, would have been between $654 and $805 on the tax bill for a $350,000 house in Norfolk.
Town Administrator Jack Hathaway had mixed feelings about the vote, happy for the school override's passage and disappointed that the public safety building, especially, didn't pass. The MSBA has made it plain that if voters didn't jump at the reimbursement offer for the new school they would move to the back of the list, he said. And people listened.
"People are concerned with the services we provide, but they really felt that the kids needed a new school,'' Hathaway said. And although public safety personnel are working in substandard conditions, and everyone relies on quick response times, the need just wasn't seen as being as critical, he said: "Hopefully we can regroup and try this again when the time is right.''