- Recap: The proposed new police station is anticipated to cost $35.2 million in total – including both previously approved funds and Town Meeting’s near-unanimous vote in March to appropriate $32.4 million for police station design and construction provided voters approve temporarily raising property taxes to fund this expenditure in a referendum. This project has been in the works since at least 2011; drastic inflation, and additions of about 4,000 square feet to the project requested by community members following a project pause and community conversation about race, social justice and policing, have increased the cost to its current level. On top of Town Meeting’s overwhelming support for the project, the small community group Lexington Residents Reimagining Public Safety (LRRPS) expressed its support for the new police station and debt exclusion in a statement. “We agree that the current police station is at the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced,” they wrote. “As residents interested in improving communication, transparency, and community input regarding policing practices in Lexington, we are glad to see that the new station design includes a welcoming lobby, a community room, and a private area for those walking into the building to report concerns.” They also expressed appreciation for Chief Michael McLean’s commitment to integrating social service programming into the department’s work. (You can read more about the project’s background, the problems with the current police station and solutions proposed by the roughly 34,000 SF new design in our previous reporting.)
- Recap #2 – What’s a debt exclusion: “Appropriating $32.4 million,” in practice, will mean borrowing money to finance the police station; Lexington will need to raise property taxes until any such borrowing is repaid, which can only be done with the approval of voters. This is called a debt exclusion because the amount of the debt to finance the police station is excluded from the limit of Proposition 2 ½ which normally caps how much the tax levy can be raised. A debt exclusion differs from an override because it is only a temporary increase in property taxes; an override, on the other hand, adds permanently to the levy limit. Should voters approve Monday’s debt exclusion, the cost to taxpayers will peak when the debt is first issued; for residents owning homes of average value, the current projected cost is $258 in the first year, which is estimated to decrease over time to $149 in the 20th year. The Town offers a calculator residents can use to figure the personal cost to them in the first year.
- How will the Town pay for the police station and a new high school?
A couple of years ago, the Select Board asked Town Manager Jim Malloy to look for a way to offset the cost to taxpayers of Town and School buildings – especially a new or renovated high school. The Town has pursued both a new police station and a high school for years, but these two capital projects have dramatically different scales; the high school is expected to cost about 10 times as much as the new police station, or roughly $350 million, according to Malloy’s March memorandum to the Select Board. The Town hopes to receive a 25% reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA); the first of many steps necessary to receive that funding took place this spring, when the MSBA voted to invite LPS into its eligibility period. Lexington had previously been rejected from this rigorous, competitive process at least twice. In April, Town Meeting authorized nearly $2 million in feasibility study funds for a new or renovated high school as another step toward completing the MSBA’s stipulated process.
Back in 2020, the Town’s finance team developed a new fiscal guideline to set aside all new commercial property tax revenue into the Capital Stabilization Fund; they began to put this guideline into action this year, Malloy said. These substantial funds can be used to repay debt for major capital projects instead of being absorbed into the operating budget. How much money is actually set aside under this model? At two community forums this week, Malloy said that economic projects already approved will generate around $11.5 million per year for the Capital Stabilization Fund based on current square-foot prices – decreasing the burden of debt payment on taxpayers by that amount annually.
If approved by voters, the excluded debt payments on the police station would first hit taxpayers in FY25, according to a May memo from Malloy to the Select Board. Payments for the high school, on the other hand, would not be expected to hit until FY28 or (more likely) FY29, he said. By the time the high school debt hits, the Town hopes to have even more approved commercial projects which generate tax revenue and further offset tax payments. In fact, the Town hopes to offset around 75% of the cost of the high school project through this fiscal strategy, Malloy said.
Malloy’s memo references 4.0% interest rates for debt issuance related to these projects; because Lexington has a Triple-A bond rating, the town is not concerned about rates increasing, and considers this a conservative number, he said.
Sticking to this strategy, and not reallocating any of this revenue in the Town’s regular operating budget, will require “a lot of fiscal restraint,” Malloy said.
- What will happen to the Hosmer House? After the Select Board issued a third Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking a solution for the Hosmer House, a historic building which must be moved to accommodate the new police station, John Carroll submitted a bid. He proposed moving the house to Waltham St and renovating it for residential use. This solution is consistent with a goal articulated in a study on the Hosmer House several years ago; “Having a prominent local resident that has stepped up to not only move the building, but restore it to a residential use is seen as beneficial,” Malloy wrote in an email. “The building has some historic value although [it] is really just a portion of what has historically been at this location,” he added. The Select Board unanimously indicated support (without a formal vote) for this new location at a meeting last month. The Town is currently working with Carroll and the Historic Districts Commission to determine the viability of this bid and whether the house can be moved out of the Historic District; the HDC plans to discuss the proposal at their meeting in July. “The proposal from Mr. Carroll does not include any funding from the Town to move the Hosmer House,” Malloy wrote. “We will however work with Mr. Carroll in the best [interest] of the community to ensure this is a project everyone can be proud of in the end.”
- What’s the plan for solar panels on this building? The Town aims to get the new police station “as close to net zero as possible” using solar panels, Cronin said at a forum this week. About 25% of the roof can hold solar panels; this was maximized by the architect, Cronin said, with input from the Historic Districts Commission (HDC), because a roof with “peaks and valleys” fit better with the character of the neighborhood than one flat roof, he explained. The Town hopes to put additional solar panels above the parking area, he added. Prior to Spring Town Meeting, the Select Board voted unanimously to support bringing a solar project “satisfactory to the stakeholders” to a future Town Meeting, with Fall Town Meeting 2022 as the goal; they hope that the solar project will be constructed at the same time as the police station “to maximize efficiencies with the site contractor.”
- Was any campaign organized for this ballot question? Unlike for the gas-powered leaf blower ballot question in March, no campaign was organized either in favor or against the new police station. One citizen funded the printing and distribution of a targeted mailing campaign with bullet points on a postcard explaining the need for the project. Charles Lamb chairs the Capital Expenditures Committee (CEC), but sent the mailer as an individual, because he strongly believes Lexington needs the project and has watched it get delayed again and again in his years of service to the Town: “The can’s been kicked down the road for a long time…and its time has come,” he said. “We’ve got to give our personnel the tools they need to do their job….We wouldn’t send them out there without decent cop cars, so let’s not send them out there without a reasonable police station.” Lamb was motivated to send a postcard out of concern that residents lacked information about the project, and might not even be aware of an upcoming debt exclusion vote: “There hasn’t been a lot of information disseminated…I felt that people needed to at least know about this…It’s important.”
- When would construction start, and how long would it take? According to Public Facilities Director Mike Cronin, should voters approve the debt exclusion, construction would likely start in late summer, and would continue for about 16 months, concluding in January 2024.
- What happens if the debt exclusion fails? Should the debt exclusion fail on Monday, the Town will have the opportunity to do additional education about the project and hold another debt exclusion – but until and unless a debt exclusion passes, Lexington cannot move forward with this project. If another debt exclusion failed, the Town would probably have to hold another Town Meeting vote because too much time would have elapsed since the original vote. Additionally, as time passed, the project “would become more costly,” Malloy wrote. He noted that when the Town put the project on hold in 2020, they believed construction inflation would total about $120,000 a month; instead, it’s been closer to $200,000 per month. “Should the debt exclusion fail, the increase in cost would likely be somewhere between the $120,000 and $200,000 per month until such time that the project may be approved,” Malloy wrote.