en English
en Englishes Spanishpt Portuguesear Arabicht Haitian Creolezh-TW Chinese (Traditional)


Your Local Online News Source for Over 3 Decades

City looks at plans to pay for new high school

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  The City Council has been asking for some detailed information on how the city will pay for the new $499 million high school at Wonderland. Chief Financial Officer Richard Viscay was at this week’s council meeting with a presentation on financial planning and a list of options Revere has to pay for the project.

  Throughout his presentation, Viscay stressed that the school can’t be built by taxing Revere property owners. “We tax at the levy limit. We can’t build a high school on the backs of taxpayers,” said Viscay.

  With the city raising taxes off the table, Viscay suggested bringing the question to the voters to see if they want to increase their taxes to pay for a new high school. But he also had other options for the council to consider. Viscay suggested looking at the Community Preservation Act, which allows cities and towns to collect money for community projects through a property tax surcharge, which is matched by the state. Viscay also suggested the city can be vigilant about state grant opportunities. He said there are often grants available for environmental improvements and energy efficiencies. Viscay also felt a multiyear forecast of Chapter 70 funding state aid to Revere Public Schools would help keep costs manageable.

  Although Revere already collects the maximum allowed for room and meals taxes, Viscay highlighted the potential revenue from cannabis local option taxes and impact fees. He showed a list of what other communities are taking in from recreational cannabis shops. He said Revere is not taking advantage of any of that revenue, which has brought $3.2 million to Salem and $1.2 million to Melrose.

  It costs $4 million a year to pick up trash in Revere, which is paid for with the solid waste enterprise fund. Instituting a trash fee would free up some of that money for the high school.

Creating funding sources for the High school Stabilization Fund would also offset building costs, and there’s also a possibility of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

  Viscay also presented a list of cuts or changes that would put the city in a better position to fund the new school. Working with the total cost figure of $440 million, financial advisors estimate that the debt payments of the fully bonded new school, after an MSBA reimbursement of $290 million, will be $19 million a year. Viscay said any part of the Wonderland site that can be available for private development will bring in some cash as well as annual tax revenue.

  Still, cost savings or cuts are part of the conversation, and Viscay began with the city’s fixed costs, health insurance and pensions. The city’s health care costs are estimated to be between $3 million and $5 million a year. Viscay said the city has tried to look at The Group Insurance Commission (GIC), which provides health care insurance to municipal employees and their families as well as retirees. “There is the potential to save millions a year going to the state,” said Viscay. “It’s kind of a sacred cow, but we have the opportunity to save money there.”

  The pension system is 64 percent funded and the city needs to pay another 111 million by 2033. Once it is fully funded, the city will have an additional 21 million for other expenses, including debt payments. An extension of the pension payment schedule could free up some of the money, but a vote of the Revere Retirement Board is required.

  Viscay also suggested that the city’s operating budget could increase at a slower pace than the revenue increases in the city. Viscay suggested reducing or maintaining full-time employees when possible, ensuring all collective bargaining agreements are reasonable and fair, privatizing, reducing and eliminating services for cost savings, and regionalizing and consolidating whenever possible.

  Viscay also pointed to the city’s capital plan and budget, which covers large, infrequent expenses, and suggested tweaks and prioritization. He suggested putting projects with grant funding first.

  Also on the table for city leaders to consider are increases in fees, fines and the costs for permits and licenses. “We want to be keeping up with our peers in what we’re charging,” said Viscay, adding that building permits would be key to look at.

  Councillors thanked Viscay for the presentation, but they were not happy with the options that were laid out. “Most everything on here is damn offensive,” said Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto. “This is a tough mountain to climb. My fear is that we end up in receivership and we end up like Chelsea.”

  Mayor Brian Arrigo spoke briefly after Viscay, telling councilors that it will take a lot of work from everyone in the city to figure out the best path forward. “We are going to work with the Ways and Means Committee looking for a financial plan to help us pay for this project,” he told the council.

  Arrigo said the city will look at other communities to see how they are handling new school construction. He conceded the project comes with some sticker shock and admitted that moving ahead will take some trust.

  The council is under pressure to approve the schematic design for the building by a March 1 deadline from the MSBA. Cost cutting or value engineering will continue after that date.

  “My concern is that we’re taking away from Peter to pay Paul,” said Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna.

  “We’re taking from here, we’re taking from there. What happens to our sidewalks, our infrastructure, our streets? We’re taking away from our city,” she said.

  Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti said his concern with the project is still the price tag. “It was $338 million with contingencies up to $380 million. Then it was $499 million and now you’re telling me $440 million. The numbers are all over the place. I don’t know why it has gone so high. People have come up to me and asked, ‘Why are we building the most expensive high school?’ This can’t fall on the taxpayers; that’s the fear out there,” said Visconti.

  Councillor-at-Large Marc Silvestri agreed. “We can’t just build this high school and ram it down the taxpayers’ throats,” he said.

  While some councillors seem to want to revisit the idea of siting the school at Wonderland, Ward 5 Councillor John Powers felt that would be a mistake. “Wonderland closed 10 to 12 years ago, and it has just sat there all these years. There’s no plan to build on it. If we pull away from Wonderland, it will sit there another five years in its present condition,” said Powers.

  City Council President Patrick Keefe said the cost needs to be reduced. “We have to look internally and see how we can afford it,” he said.

Contact Advocate Newspapers