Glooucester City Council unanimously approved the recommended draft ballot question regarding the debt exclusion for the construction of a new East Gloucester/Veterans Memorial Elementary School. 

The approved ballot question for the Nov. 3 election proposes that the city of Gloucester be allowed "to exempt from the provisions of Proposition two-and-one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for bonds issued in order provide the necessary funding for the design, site work, construction and outfitting of a new East Gloucester/Veterans Memorial Elementary School." 

"The process for a combined East Gloucester/Veterans Memorial Elementary School continues," Mayor Sefatia Romeo Then wrote in a July 27 letter to the City Council. "Gloucester residents will be involved in the final decision through a debt exclusion vote in the upcoming November elections. The City of Gloucester remains financially stable and ready to move forward with this important project to give our children the school they deserve."

The language of the ballot question, as explained by the city's Chief Financial Officer John Dunn, is as it has been approved because "MSBA will not accept it any other way." 

"If we are looking for potentially $25 million in grant funding from the MSBA, this is what we have to do," he said. "There is no choice."

If the vote on Nov. 3 goes in favor of the new combined elementary school, according to the ballot question, taxpayers in the city of Gloucester will see their community exceed the state's Proposition 2 ½  tax cap for the time needed to pay off the debt without raising the actual tax base. 

In the case of this proposed debt exclusion override, the tax levy will return to its previous level once the project is paid off. 

A detailed loan appropriation order with the specific budget for the project will come out, said Dunn, but not quite yet. 

"At this point we are not talking about budget numbers because that decision does not happen until the MSBA meets at the end of August," he detailed. 

If the vote does not pass, Gloucester Superintendent for Schools Ben Lummis explained that they would either have to start the building project process with MSBA over again with a completion date no earlier than 2027 or maintain the current buildings with limited renovations. 

"Not a path you want to go down," Lummis said at a late July Building and Finance meeting. 

Now approved by the City Council, the ballot question must be submitted to the Secretary of State's office for certification by Wednesday, Aug. 5 if it is to be placed on the state biennial election in November. 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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