DALTON — Financial chickens have come home to roost in Dalton. Twenty months after residents voted to support building a new Wahconah Regional High School, tax bills due Feb. 1 are the first to reflect an initial major installment of the project’s cost.
This year, Dalton is on the hook to cover $1,369,873 in debt service for Wahconah, as part of long-term financing. As the largest of seven towns in the Central Berkshire Regional School District, Dalton pays two-thirds of the borrowing cost of more than $41 million. The state is reimbursing the rest of the project’s overall $72.72 million cost.
Sandra Albano, the interim town manager, said the tax bill for the owner of an average single-family home in Dalton, valued at around $210,000, is up about 10 percent.
“It’s a sticker shock, I’m sure,” Albano said in an interview Monday.
Tax bills mailed at year’s end are based on a new tax rate set in November. The impact of the Wahconah borrowing will be seen throughout the new calendar year and for decades to come.
Ahead of the new school’s approval in April 2019, Dalton estimated the project would increase taxes annually by more than $560 for the average single-family home.
Along with the project’s capital costs, Dalton’s tax bills reflect what Albano termed “interim adjustments” in values. For that reason, higher taxes are the result of both the school project borrowing and higher property values.
For the 2021 fiscal year, residential property values rose 4.2 percent, Albano said, compared to having increased 2.4 percent the previous year.
Later Monday, Albano briefed members of the Select Board on the issue of public concern about property values and tax bills.
The financial bite of Wahconah borrowing is hardly a surprise. Opponents of the project, including the chairman of the town’s Finance Committee, cautioned officials in 2019, ahead of the district’s vote, that building a new school would drive taxes up to levels that could make it hard for some residents to pay their bills.
Albano told members of the board Monday that the newly issued bills have people talking. “I’m hearing questions as to why the taxes have gone up so high,” she said.
Dalton residents backed the Wahconah project by a vote of 1,011-737. Overall, the proposal passed 1,785-1,697. Residents of Becket and Washington joined Dalton in saying yes. The district’s other towns, Cummington, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor, voted to reject the proposal.
The new school, already standing on Old Windsor Road, is scheduled to be finished in time for use next fall.