Do we raise taxes to pay for a new North Dorchester High School?

Over my years of service on the County Council, I have heard and addressed many concerns from Dorchester County citizens — not only those from my own district but county-wide. Two of these concerns were addressed and debated as the Council prepared the county’s FY
2016 budget: a new North Dorchester High School and tax increases.

To be clear, I agree with and support efforts for a new high school and I do care about having a healthy environment for the school students and personnel. And, I continue to feel strongly that it should have been built before the county’s Career and Technology Center based on the high school’s current age and design. To advocate for a new high school, I have attended and spoken at meetings with the state board of public works.

In the past, County Councils have approved very expensive projects with years of debt. That just dumps the problem in the laps of future council members and taxpayers. With the state ready to fund none of the construction cost, the county’s finance office has clearly stated that the county’s $22 million share will have to be financed with bonds and a 2.2 cent property tax increase in 2 to 3 years. Finance was unable to find any time that property taxes were raised for new school construction. Four years ago an 8 cent increase was passed to taxpayers because of the loss of highway user funds.

One group of constituents feels strongly and vocally that the new school should be funded despite a tax increase. A second group I hear from are people who are older, on fixed incomes, and struggling to pay their expenses. They do not want taxes raised but cannot always attend meetings and hearings.

After reading a published report on the most recent meeting of the state board of public works, I placed calls to the State Comptroller’s Office and the State Department of Education to see if anything was new with the local funding of a new school for North Dorchester. I was told that because of a state prevailing wage labor law, that construction costs would go up at least 8 percent. But nothing had changed in terms of what the state’s cost share would be.

I have suggested researching the kind of public/private partnerships used in Montgomery and other counties, Florida, and other states. Why not ask a scientific instrument company to fund a science lab? Or, a food service company to contribute to a cafeteria? Or, has the county looked into selling the Tech Park to a private developer instead of pouring money into the incubator and assuming the government can more profitably manage real estate than professionals?

The county still has to bear costs of unfunded mandates passed to counties while at the same time funding such things as maintenance, replace aging vehicles, and the county share of teachers’ pensions and the assessment and elections offices. Do we raise taxes or find ways to either cut expenses or think out of the box to look for answers?

In closing, I want to thank those who have shared your thoughts and opinions with me during the budget process and at the budget hearings.

Editor’s note: Rick Price is the Dorchester County Councilman for District 4. He resides in Hurlock.

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