Although the towns of Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend will contribute different amounts to the North Middlesex Regional High School building project, the tax impact on individual households is expected to be similar across all three towns, according to building committee projections.
Pepperell will be fronting the majority of the building costs for which the towns will be responsible, at around 50 percent, due to its population, school enrollment and other community data. Townsend is expected to pay about 38 percent, and Ashby 12 percent, due to lower student enrollment from those towns.
"The perception is that Pepperell is funding more than their fair share, but in reality, it's based on the number of students in the district and on population. Pepperell has a much higher population than Ashby, so therefore, they would pay a higher percent of the fees," said Building Committee Chair Robert Templeton. "It's no different than the way the district budget falls out during the course of the year."
Templeton said that preliminary estimates indicate that the difference in taxes on individual households will not be as drastic as the budget breakdown will make some people think, amounting to about a five percent range between the towns.
"A homeowner in Ashby with a $200,000 house is going to pay roughly the same as a person in Pepperell with a house that costs $200,000 from a tax implication standpoint," Templeton said. "There are more people and more houses to spread that cost around (in Pepperell), so individual homeowners are going to see a fairly similar impact regardless of where they live."
Although individuals will see a tax impact should the project pass, Templeton said he wants to correct perceptions that Pepperell residents could be paying much more.
"We're not saying it's going to be any easier. We completely understand the financial implications, but individual homeowners are certainly going to have a similar breakout," Templeton said.
Although the project budget won't be finalized until the building committee receives estimates in the next few weeks, the committee is projecting that the school will cost about $89.5 million, with between 57 and 60 percent of eligible costs to be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The remainder would be financed by the three towns, if the project is approved in both a Special Town Meeting and a ballot election this spring.
Townsend Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said that a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion would be necessary to fund the project.
"It's obviously a big number. If it turns out to be $15 million to $18 million, that's a lot for us to absorb. But we'll be working with North Middlesex and their bond advisors to figure out the best way to pay it off to minimize the impact," Sheehan said.
Pepperell Town Administrator John Moak said he was not yet sure how the tax impact on individual households would break down, and wouldn't be until the final estimates come in.
He said it would be up to voters to decide whether the project is worthwhile.
"It's a big pill to swallow but I've heard people say that it seems like a necessary project due to the age of the building," Moak said.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter or Tout @CEFeinstein.