Home   >   Question 5
Stacks Image 32106

Ballot Question 5 Update (Nov. 9, 2016)

On Nov. 8, 2016, residents of the City of Somerville voted on Question 5, which sought approval to allow the City to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bond(s)c issued in order to design, engineer, construct, and equip the new Somerville High School. The ballot measure passed, with ‘Yes’ votes accounting for 72% of responses. View the full unofficial totals here.

Learn more >

Information About Question 5

The November 8, 2016 election ballots in Somerville will include a ballot measure, Question 5, to seek voter approval to allow the City to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bond(s)c issued in order to design, engineer, construct, and equip the new Somerville High School.
What is Ballot Question 5?

This is the full text of Question 5 as it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the City of Somerville be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the bond(s) issued in order to design, engineer, construct, and equip the new Somerville High School?


Why does Somerville Need a New High School?

The Somerville High School Building Committee has determined:

  • The existing building is structurally deficient. Somerville High School was built over the course of many years, with the oldest portion dating back to 1895. Aging systems in the current building result in significantly higher maintenance and operating costs of systems that are years beyond their useful life. There are serious issues with the building’s exterior and roof, detailed by an independent consultant in 2011.
  • The school’s accreditation could be at stake. At Somerville High School’s most recent review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the accreditors stated that a plan for renovation or new construction needed to take place for the next re-accreditation round in 2020, or the school’s accreditation will be in jeopardy.
  • There are education concerns with the current building. The vocational and academic portions of the comprehensive high school are segregated; classrooms are not equipped with technology for 21st century instruction; there is a lack of differentiated learning environments; the cafeteria is isolated and too small; and no usable outdoor athletic space exists.
  • The cost to renovate almost matches the cost to rebuild. The Somerville High School Building Committee investigated options for the renovation or replacement of the current High School Building. The cost to renovate and upgrade the current High School Building to building code would be upwards of $130 million. The entire cost would be paid by the City. Based on the most recent estimate for the selected design for the new High School, the project cost is estimated to be approximately $256 million, with the State paying $120 million and the City paying $136 million.

The Somerville High School Building Committee recommended what it believed to be the most educationally appropriate and cost effective path forward. Option 4B calls for primarily new construction on the East Side of the existing Field House and 1929 War Memorial Buildings. The large 1986 Field House housing the indoor track as well as bay space for a number of vocational programs shall be retained and renovated.


How will the High School project be funded?

The project will be jointly funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) and the City of Somerville. Based on the most recent estimate for the selected design for the new High School, the project cost is estimated to be approximately $256 million, with the State paying $120 million and the City paying $136 million.


How will the City pay for its share of the High School Project?

The Mayor submitted and the Board of Aldermen approved a ballot question (Q5) asking the voters to approve a Proposition 2 ½ Debt Exclusion to help pay for the new High School. The City intends to borrow $130.3 million to fund its share. If voters approve a debt exclusion for the new High School on the November 8 ballot, $130.3 million of the City’s share of $136 million will be exempted from the limits of Proposition 2 ½.


What is a Proposition 2 ½ Debt Exclusion and how does it work?


  • Proposition 2 ½ limits the amount of revenue a city or town may raise from local property taxes each year to fund municipal operations. This amount is known as the annual levy limit. However, the law allows a city or town to increase tax revenues above that limit with voter approval. A debt exclusion increases the amount of property tax revenue a community may raise for a limited or temporary period of time in order to fund a specific capital project. Note that this is different from a Proposition 2 ½ override, which would add to the property tax rate indefinitely.
  • The proposed debt exclusion exempts the annual debt service to pay the $130.3 million in bonds for the Somerville High School renovation from the annual levy limit. A time-limited tax increase equivalent to the revenue needed to pay off the annual debt service payments would be levied on property taxpayers. The additional revenue raised by the tax increase must only be spent on construction of the new High School. The payment period will extend from 2018 to 2054.
  • The Somerville High School Financing Plan does not call for borrowing the entire $130.3 million up front and raising the tax bill immediately. Instead, the City’s plan keeps borrowing costs as low as possible, and allows the property tax increase to rise gradually over the next 11 years reaching a peak amount in 2027. The property tax increase will be in effect for the payment period, 2018 to 2054, until the debt is retired. (Example: The average two-family home would see an increase of $4 in year one, increasing gradually to $94 in year 5, and gradually up to its peak of $349 per year, or $6.71 per week, beginning in Fiscal Year 2027.)


Why Does Somerville Need a Debt Exclusion for the New High School Project?

Funding the Somerville High School Renovation within the tax levy limit would make it very difficult to fund critical needs the community has identified. These needs include upgrades and repairs to city buildings including our libraries and public safety facilities, street and sidewalk repairs, vehicle repair and replacement, ADA improvements to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities, and park and open space renovation.


How much will it cost the average tax payer per year?

The projected borrowing cost is not based on the current rate of 3.046% the city borrows at, but rather at a much higher rate of 5% in order to keep estimates cautious. Should borrowing rates end up being less than the 5% projected, the impact to the taxpayers would be consequently lessened. Should borrowing rates end up being more than the 5% projected, the impact to taxpayers would be increased.

  • CONDOS – According to financial estimates, the average-valued condo would see approximately a maximum of $189 per year added to its tax bill starting in fiscal year (FY) 2027 through approximately FY2047. Prior to 2027, during the first five years of the borrowing (FY18-FY22), the additional annual property tax on the average condo would be less: the estimate is $2 in year 1, $7 in year 2, on up to $51 in year 5. Between year 5 and year 10, the amounts begin to rise until reaching the maximum noted above. The amount would then fall again somewhat at the very end of the borrowing period before reaching zero in FY2054.
  • TWO-FAMILY – According to financial estimates, the average valued two-family home would see approximately a maximum of $349 per year added to its tax bill starting in fiscal year (FY) 2027 through approximately FY 2047. Prior to 2027, during the first five years of the borrowing (FY18-FY22), the additional annual property tax on the average two family would be less: the estimate is $4 in year 1, $12 in year 2, on up to $94 in year 5. Between year 5 and year 10, the amounts begin to rise until reaching the maximum noted above. The amount would then fall again somewhat at the very end of the borrowing period before reaching zero in FY2054.
  • SINGLE-FAMILY – According to financial estimates, the average valued single family home would see approximately a maximum of $294 per year added to its tax bill starting in fiscal year (FY) 2027 through approximately FY2047. Prior to 2027, during the first five years of the borrowing (FY18-FY22), the additional annual property tax on the average single would be less: the estimate is $4 in year 1, $11 in year 2, on up to $79 in year 5. Between year 5 and year 10, the amounts begin to rise until reaching the maximum noted above. The amount would then fall again somewhat at the very end of the borrowing period before reaching zero in FY2054.
  • THREE-FAMILY – According to financial estimates, the average valued three family home would see approximately a maximum of $428 per year added to its tax bill starting in fiscal year (FY) 2027 through approximately FY2047. Prior to 2027, during the first five years of the borrowing (FY18-FY22), the additional annual property tax on the average single would be less: the estimate is $5 in year 1, $15 in year 2, on up to $116 in year 5. Between year 5 and year 10, the amounts begin to rise until reaching the maximum noted above. The amount would then fall again somewhat at the very end of the borrowing period before reaching zero in FY2054.

Are there any statutory exemptions for senior citizens?

The additional tax increase resulting from the debt exclusion is applied to the overall property tax bill. Seniors who receive an elderly abatement (a reduction in taxes) due to age, income, and assets will see their abatement (their tax reduction) increase to cover all of the tax impact of the debt exclusion based upon current projections for average valued properties.

The City allows abatements to be increased up to double the previous year’s amount depending upon the amount each applicant’s tax bill has increased over the prior year’s taxes. If you are unsure if you qualify, visit the Assessor’s webpage at www.somervillema.gov/assessing or call the Assessor’s at 617 625-6600 x3100.


What other sources can the City tap to mitigate the impact on Taxpayers?

The following funding sources could be used to help pay down the debt service on the bonds taken out to fund the High School. Any additional such payments would reduce the amount that taxpayers would pay toward the high school via their tax bills.

  • Building Permit Revenue – Based on financial estimates, the City estimates an additional $3.5 million in building permit revenues over the next 10 years, and could get an additional $30 million more if all currently planned development projects move forward.
    • Sale of Assets – The new high school will allow the consolidation of city and school services, allowing for the sale of up to six city-owned properties across Somerville. The City is already evaluating those properties under the existing and proposed zoning, and by law all funds from city-owned buildings must be used to pay down debt.
    • Use of City Reserves – In the last 13 years, Somerville made a concerted effort to build and maintain ample reserves that can be used to fund capital projects.
    • Use of any or all of these sources would reduce the impact projections on the average taxpayer as stated above.

Where can I find more information on the Somerville High School project?


This website was populated prior to the submission of the ballot question and contains more background information on project plans, process meetings, and more.

Charts & Data

Additional Resources

Home   |   View the Plans   |   Related Documents & Video   |   Process Timeline   |   Meetings   |   FAQ

Contact us:
shsfuture@somervillema.gov