I think that most Auburn residents would agree that a new high school is needed. But let me offer my thoughts about meeting the city’s needs versus going for the “gold,” so to speak, and the added costs associated with that.

The state of Maine will pay for a school that has everything it “needs,” but it is possible for the School Department to upgrade plans if the taxpayers want to pay the difference.  The state is going to pay 87 percent of the $124 million that the new school will cost. The city of Auburn has to pay $16 million, which will be on the backs of the taxpayers.

The School Committee, along with Harriman Associates, has designed a beautiful “state of the art” facility that will seat 1,200 people in the auditorium (which is twice as big as it needs to be), with two gymnasiums and all the bells and whistles that they want to have on-site. The result would be the most expensive high school ever built in the state of Maine.

Keep in mind that Auburn’s high school enrollment is declining every year and taxpayers are getting older. The School Department states that this school will draw many more people to live in this community. That may very well be, but how about the elderly who are already living in our community who are struggling to stay in their homes? They live on very limited incomes and most of the ones I have spoken to can’t afford, nor do they want to be saddled with, having to pay more taxes every year for the next 20 years.

If the elderly have to leave their homes, maybe the new people who are drawn to this community can buy them out, but where do the elderly go from there? Young couples who come into this community will want to buy a home here, but will they be able to afford the tax rates? At this rate, Auburn is going to price itself right out of the market. People won’t want to come here just for the high school. They will want good-paying jobs, great places to eat and shop, above-average hospitals, doctors and dental care, etc. Auburn shouldn’t pin all of the hopes for growth on one high school and then increase the taxes on residents. That is not going to save the community.

Members of the School Department need to be reasonable, and residents need to give the plans some thought. Is it necessary to have a school so large that the city gets in over its head? Can some of those grand amenities be scaled down? Does the city need to have the biggest and best, just to put Auburn on the map?

The cost of the proposed athletic fields is astronomical. The School Department wants to build a stadium, a new football field, baseball field, soccer field, an 8-lane track, a turf lacrosse field and more. Taxpayers have to look at this project and ask if that is the right approach. Should Auburn attempt to build all of that, all at once, in one place?

I am not sure that Auburn taxpayers can afford all of those extras. The city can bond itself as much as the people want, but the city will be so financially strapped that it won’t be able to do any other projects, such as the public safety building that is needed for the Police Department, Fire Department and 911. There are roads that need to be repaired that the city won’t be able to afford to fix if finances are spread too thin. Residents have to think beyond the school.

The School Department claims that it will raise money to help to reduce the amount that taxes will increase, but it is more likely that the money raised will go toward the overages that the project will incur. Any project of that magnitude will undoubtedly have overages and changes that will be made along the way.

It is projected that in the year 2021-22, taxes on an average $150,000 home will increase $44 (for the bond payment only.) In 2022-2023, the increase will be $106, and in 2023-24, the increase is projected to be $104, again, for the bond payment only. Other city budget costs are expected to rise as well, so residents can expect more increases every year.

Once built, operating expenses will come into play for the air conditioning, maintenance, etc., that far outweigh what they were before. No expansion comes without a cost.

I just want to make residents aware that this new school, as big and grand as some people want to make it, will come at a very high cost. It is my opinion that the designers should scale down any areas that they can to help defray some of the tax hikes that residents are going to be looking at.

Leroy Walker is the Auburn City Councilor for Ward 5.