SHIRLEY -- At last night's meeting of the Shirley Finance Committee, Shirley Principal Assessor and Finance Committee member Rebecca Boucher laid out the estimated Shirley tax rate effects of the debt exclusion for the proposed Ayer-Shirley Regional High School renovation project.

The numbers presented were based upon a number of factors, not the least of which was the condition that Ayer citizens vote to share a portion of the costs of the remaining debt on the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School building on Oct. 22.

The local Ayer and Shirley share of the total cost of the high-school renovation project after the Massachusetts State Building Authority's reimbursement would be $19,600,000 of the estimated $56,500,000 project.

With a level debt structure and debt payments to be made over 20 years at an estimated interest rate of 4.5 percent, the average single-family home with an assessed value of $261,235 for fiscal 2013 would be assessed a total of $4,807.77.

The formula used to calculate the tax rate is based on the formula for the split with Ayer in the regional agreement, which is based on the five-year average of actual and foundation enrollment, something which is subject to change. The estimate of the split is currently 60 percent for Ayer, and 40 percent for Shirley.

According to Boucher, the tax-rate projection is also based on the fiscal 2013 total assessed value and estimated tax levy, and is subject to changes in tax rates, assessed values and the tax base.

"The estimated tax bill increases do not include any increase under Proposition 2 1/2 and are limited to the effect of the proposed debt exclusion only," she said. Added taxes for sewer betterments and the proposed override for an additional police officer, the latter to be voted on Nov. 6, were also excluded.

Attending the meeting with the Finance Committee were Superintendent and School Building Committee Member Carl Mock, Director of Finance and School Building Committee member Evan Katz, and Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee Chair Joyce Reischutz.

Mock said since he had last met with the Finance Committee, "we have extraordinarily good news -- the MSBA approved a reimbursement rate of 70.25 percent."

Due to certain caps on some costs such as the site, asbestos abatement, and the size of the auditorium, which the school district would like to keep at a slightly higher capacity than is reimbursable, the net reimbursement will actually be about 66 percent.

Mock put the total cost at $56.5 million. The amount of borrowing, he said, is roughly $19.4 million, but the figure of $19.6 million was used "just to give us a little leeway."

The elections

"I am pleased to say that in both communities the boards of selectmen went along with the requirements by the school committee to have the vote on Saturday, Nov. 17, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.," Mock said.

The reason the votes for the project must be cast in an eight-hour window is because a regional school district vote on debt has to be at least four but no more than eight hours, and be the same hours in both communities, he said.

On the day of the vote, there will be two separate ballots in each town. One will be asking the voters to affirm that the School Committee may borrow the funds for the renovation project.

The total yes and no votes between the two towns will be combined. That will determine if the question passes or fails.

The second vote on the ballot, for the debt exclusions in the two towns, is separate for each town. Both of those votes in the respective towns must pass for the School Committee to be able to proceed to borrow the funds for the project.

The schedule

Mock said if the project is approved by the voters, the Building Committee will quickly negotiate contracts with the owner's project manager and designer, and enter into a detailed design phase.

"Right now we have schematics for our selected design. By January, we will probably prepare the vacant section that did house the middle school so the high-school kids can occupy it by spring.

"Then the high school academic wing will be demolished and rebuilt for reoccupation of the high-school kids by fall 2014. Some of the core will also be worked on, but the core will mostly be worked on in the second year," he said. 

"A variety of spaces will become available as things are shifted around. We need to make sure the kids are safe and we get it done as quickly as possible. It should be done by August of 2015. It is a two-year process while the building is being occupied."

"In terms of the feasibility study, we expended less than $700,000, and that gets rolled into the project and is reimbursable if the project is approved. So we have gotten our reimbursement on what we expended, but we have spent the first half of the project in a sense."

Lisamaria Steinberg, a prospective Finance Committee member attending her first meeting, said one of the reasons she and her husband chose to move to Shirley two years ago was due to school regionalization. "Our realtor told us they are regionalizing and I said, 'sold!'" she said.

"With the middle school debt sharing," said Shirley Town Treasurer Kevin Johnston, "and $261,000 for the average home paying $4,800 over the next 20 years to improve the school, homeowners can maintain their value in their single largest asset, their home."

"If you don't want the town to gentrify and want to bring more people into the community -- bring in younger people, a little bit younger than (Finance Committee Chairman) Frank (Kolarik) and I -- younger people typically have children and they are concerned about schools," added Swanton.

Johnston stated that he, Boucher, and Shirley Chief Administrative Officer Dave Berry have met with their counterparts in Ayer and the School Committee. The trio will be co-authoring a clear statement with the facts about the project, including the tax and debt-management impact, on Oct. 23. That is the day after the vote in Ayer that will determine if Ayer will share the costs with Shirley of the remaining debt of the shared Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School building.

The Shirley Finance Committee will next meet on Oct. 29 to make a definitive recommendation regarding the high school project, and to draft a press release that clarifies its position.