AUBURN — When voters go to the polls June 11 to decide on a new Edward Little High School, they will be asked two ballot questions that break up local costs, the School Committee and the City Council agreed Wednesday night.

The Auburn School Committee and City Council meet Wednesday night to discuss how residents will be asked to vote on funding for a new Edward Little High School. The board and council agreed to ask two ballot questions that break up local spending. Sun Journal photo by Bonnie Washuk

The two ballot questions will give voters some “voice and choice” about the local costs of building a new school, Mayor Jason Levesque said.

If both questions were approved by voters, the school would cost a projected $122 million. Of that, $105.9 million would be paid by the state, while Auburn taxpayers would cover $15.5 million and another $500,000 would come from local fundraising efforts.

The Building Committee recommended to the School Committee on April 9 that only one ballot question be asked, and that it include state and local funding.

The problem with one question, a former Maine education funding expert said, is if voters were to reject the local spending proposal, they could undo the whole project. He said a safer, more-transparent way would be to break out local costs into a separate ballot question.

The School Committee and the City Council agreed Wednesday night that Question 1 will ask voters to approve the $105.9 million in state funding, plus $5.5 million in local funding to pay for things not covered by the state, including extra program space, geothermal heating and cooling, an increased gym area and other interior features.

Question 2 will ask voters to approve $10.5 million in additional local funds to pay for a 1,200-seat performing arts center and state-of-the-art athletic stadium with a turf field and a larger track.

If Question 1 passes and Question 2 fails, there could be a second referendum in October that would tweak the size and other specifications of the performing arts center and stadium, officials said.

Property tax costs for the separate questions for a home valued at $150,000 were not available Wednesday night. But the Auburn School Department has said that the total local costs for both questions, or $15.5 million, would be $94 in 2023 for that $150,000 valued property. After 2023, the annual costs for the 20-year loan would come down about $2 a year for that property.

Superintendent Katy Grondin, Levesque, School Committee member Bonnie Hayes and City Manager Peter Crighton met Wednesday morning to come up with the two proposed questions presented Wednesday night to the City Council and School Committee.

Question 2 “is helping Question 1” by not risking the whole project, Levesque said, adding that he is optimistic the community will support both questions.

The ballot questions allow voters to approve the state money and $5.5 million in local funds, “which is the bulk of the project,” Levesque said. Voters will then be allowed to decide whether to spend another $10.5 million to make a bigger, better school with a top-notch performing arts center and athletic stadium.

“I believe this presents the best, clearest, most-transparent way forward,” the mayor said.

In recent weeks, there has been considerable debate over whether to present one or more ballot questions and what the questions should include. On Wednesday, the sides reached a compromise, Levesque said.

“Nobody’s tickled pink about a compromise,” he said, “but we are going to be ecstatic about a good reaction from the community and have a really good feeling when this high school is open.”

City Councilor Bob Hayes disagreed, saying the two questions are “not a compromise.” The two questions are simply what Levesque wanted, Hayes said.

Levesque fired back, telling Hayes, “Do not put words in my mouth.”

Levesque said if he had his choice, he would ask voters seven questions focusing on locally financed parts of the school proposal.

The two questions are “clear, concise,” Levesque said. “We put it out to voters for them to be the final judge and jury, that’s it.”

Many in the community did not feel good about being offered one question for approval.

“We have to make sure they feel good about this process,” Levesque said.

Auburn has waited a long time for a new school, Grondin said.

“I’m confident when (voters) read what’s in the second question, it will pass,” she said.

After Wednesday night’s joint workshop, the School Committee met briefly and voted unanimously to recommend the two ballot questions to the City Council. The council then met and took a first vote on sending the bonds to referendum.

On Monday night, the City Council, which has final say on ballot language, is expected to give formal approval to the two questions.

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