It’s a ‘go’ for Nov. 1 Special Town Meeting to consider Foster School, public safety facility funding

July 13, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer

Following last week's lengthy and informative presentations detailing the proposed new Foster School and public safety facility projects, the Select Board voted last night to schedule a Special Town Meeting for Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. at Hingham High School to seek voter approval for full funding for both projects.

That date was tentatively set last week but was confirmed at this meeting.

The projected Foster School total cost is estimated at about $113.3 million, with possible partial funding under the Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement program of between 36.87 to 40.52 percent of total project costs and expenses deemed eligible by the MSBA.

The total cost for construction of the public safety facility was last estimated at $38 million, a figure that will be adjusted for inflation and other factors.

Select Board Chair William Ramsey and fellow Select Board members Joseph Fisher and Liz Klein all expressed support for both projects, saying the time has come to bring them to reality due to the condition of Foster School, the West Hingham Fire Station, and Hingham Police Department headquarters on Central Street -- among other considerations and issues --  and the need to expand the Senior Center to meet the needs of the town's growing older population.

"We knew this [referring to Foster School] needed to be done years ago," Klein said. "We got answers to all the questions we asked during last week's meeting, and I'm comfortable with where the project is right now."

With regard to the public safety project, Ramsey said the West Hingham Fire Station's time "has come and gone. What worked in the 1950s doesn't work today."

After touring both the fire station and HPD headquarters, he is convinced of the need for a new combined facility. "Moving both into one new building [off Lincoln Street] will allow us to look at Town Hall for other options, including a potential expansion of the Senior Center," he said.

In addition to voting on the warrant articles related to funding for both projects, Town Meeting will also be asked to approve moving up to $7 million from the town's fund balance (rainy day fund) into a separate stabilization fund earmarked solely to reduce the tax impact of both projects, if supported by Town Meeting.

The Select Board also voted unanimously to include local debt exclusion questions on the Nov. 8 state election ballot regarding the proposed Foster School and public safety facility projects.

A debt exclusion is a temporary funding measure that excludes certain debt from counting against the Proposition 2-1/2 limit on year-to-year property tax levy increases.

In order to secure the requested funding for both projects, two-thirds of the voters at Town Meeting would have to vote favorably on both warrant articles, while the ballot questions would each have to pass by a majority vote.

Fisher explained that since the ballots will be printed before the Nov. 1 Special Town Meeting occurs, the questions will appear regardless of the outcome of both Town Meeting votes. "Worst-case scenario, if voters don't approve the questions at the Special Town Meeting, the ballot question votes won't count, but hopefully the articles will pass and the ballot vote will count," he said.

If Town Meeting approves funding for only one project, the information stated above would apply to the projects individually.

More information will be available at future meetings and during public information sessions that will be held to fully explain the need for both projects, the cost, and the taxpayer impact.

"We plan to let voters know upfront [all the details] and answer any and all questions," Ramsey said. "We want this process to be as transparent as possible. This is not the end of the discussion."

A copy of the STM warrant will be mailed to every Hingham household by Oct. 18. The Advisory Committee will consider the three warrant articles related to the proposed new Foster School, the new public safety facility, and moving up to $7 million into a special stabilization fund and provide comments and recommendations for each one.

If such a stabilization fund is established, Town Meeting would have to approve any expenditures from it

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