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463WVN #371: Tax rates and budgets; superintendent search

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  • waylandvoters1
    Sep 28, 2010
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      This newsletter looks at taxes, budgets and the economy as Wayland is poised to set the highest property tax rate in eastern Massachusetts.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- The search is on for a new school superintendent.

      -- WVN Readers' concerns and the Wayland Values Forum scheduled for Wednesday.

      BUDGET MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN TAX RATES

      In fiscal year 2010 Wayland gained the dubious honor of having the second highest tax rate for single family homes in eastern Massachusetts, narrowly missing ranking number three. In 2009, Wayland ranked fifth, according to figures from the Department of Revenue. See
      http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=dorterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Local+Officials&L2=DLS+Newsroom&L3=City+%26+Town&sid=Ador&b=terminalcontent&f=dls_city_town_2010_2010_tax_bill&csid=Ador

      For the eastern portion of the state in FY 10, Sharon had the highest tax rate, at $17.92 per thousand dollars of assessed value, followed by Wayland at $17.78, followed closely by Amesbury at $17.77. Bolton's rate was $17.61 and Sherborn's was $17.44.

      Sudbury ranked #17 in the eastern portion of the state with a tax rate of 16.08. Tax rate rankings can fluctuate on a competitive basis. If Sharon were to have a large debt expiring soon, it could drop out of first place. Wayland's rate is likely to rise with larger debt payments for the new high school.

      Tax rate factors

      Tax rates are determined by a number of factors, including the total assessed value in a town, and a town's budget (including state aid). The only element within the town's control is the budget, which includes additional or expiring debt, overrides, the outcome of collective bargaining for new union contracts, and annual budget allocations. The assessed value in a town is based on prior sales. For example, calendar year 2009 sales are analyzed for fiscal year 2011 assessments.

      From FY 2009 to FY2010, the average value of homes in Wayland declined by 4.64 percent, roughly in line with the state average, and in 2009 the town voted for an FY 10 debt exemption, primarily to cover the initial debt of $10 million for the $71 million high school. The interest payments are scheduled to increase in coming years.

      As a result of both of these factors, Wayland's tax rate jumped a sizable 8.61 percent from FY09's 16.37 to 17.78. When residents are faced with approving future budget increases, they should be aware the town's tax rate is already among the highest in the state.

      Why is this important? Prospective residents often look not only at the current taxes for a particular home, but also the tax rate in the town before deciding where to buy. If a town is less popular, the home prices may trend downwards, and as a result, the tax rate has to rise to meet the budget allowed under Prop. 2.5 not to mention any override.

      Statewide, the average value of single family property declined 4.61 percent between FY 09 and 10. Since FY2007 throughout the state, single family property has lost an average of 8.1 percent in value, according to the DOR, a far cry from the halcyon days of 2001-2005 when the average single family property value was increasing annually at double-digit percentage rates.

      Among the nine towns statewide with the highest average tax bills in both FY 09 and 10, Wayland is notable for a high average tax bill and ranks significantly lower in average assessed value. The towns with the highest average tax bills are in descending order: Weston, Sherborn, Dover, Lincoln, Carlisle, Wayland, Concord and Wellesley. "Their rankings by (average) assessed values are Weston (2), Sherborn (21), Dover (7), Lincoln (9), Carlisle (14), Wayland (31), Concord (13) and Wellesley (10)."

      While the Board of Selectmen attribute the high tax rate to a lack of commercial property in town, one may ask if Wayland is living beyond its means.

      Is additional commercial development the answer? For example, the site of the future Twenty Wayland Town Center development, formerly Raytheon, brings in approximately $415,000 in taxes. Even if Wayland had room for, and could attract enough businesses to pay the same amount in taxes, that would reduce the average tax bill of 4,546 single family homes and condos by less than $100. That is most likely not enough to change Wayland's tax rate ranking among other towns.

      If the Town Center were fully built to 370,000 square feet, which is not in the developer's near-term plans, the additional tax revenue would mean a contribution of less than1 percent of the $60 million budget, or less than a $100 reduction on a tax bill of $10,000. Higher taxes as a result of borrowing for the high school would more than wipe out that saving.

      Unemployment at 6.2 percent

      Amidst the second highest property tax rate in eastern Massachusetts, Wayland's unemployment rate in July was 6.2 percent or 421 people, down from as high as 8 percent in January, but above the average for all of 2009, when Wayland's unemployment was 6 percent.

      Sharon, with the highest tax rate in eastern Mass., had a July unemployment rate of 7 percent, but it did not hit 8 percent during this year to date. Last year, the unemployment rate was 6.8 percent.

      Other metrowest towns have also been impacted. Weston's unemployment rate has risen from 5.3 percent for 2009 to 5.6 percent or 309 people in July. Lincoln showed a 5.8 percent unemployment in July, up from 5.3 percent for 2009.

      -- Molly Upton


      SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH

      After spending several months choosing a search firm to help find a replacement for retiring Superintendent Gary Burton, on Sept. 20 the School Committee met with Richard Warren and Bill Garr of Future Management Systems to lay out the plan. It calls for immediately placing an ad in an education journal, with a goal of hiring the new superintendent in February.

      About 20 Massachusetts school districts will be looking for a superintendent this year, the consultants said, but added that Wayland is comfortably ahead of the crowd.

      Six or seven focus groups representing many constituencies will be formed to solicit community opinions on desirable characteristics in a new superintendent. Other individuals will be interviewed by phone. Public input will be solicited via email, as well.

      In response to a question from member Barb Fletcher, the consultants said that one technique they did not find useful was an open public forum.

      A search committee will be formed to choose the best three candidates to recommend to the School Committee for final consideration. Prior to that point applications will be confidential. After the three are chosen, however, their candidacy becomes public and they will be publicly interviewed by the School Committee.

      After the process was laid out, FMS initiated the first step in defining Wayland's needs by asking the Committee to brainstorm on Wayland's strengths. Committee members listed a culture of achievement, community support for excellent schools, an emphasis on teachers, teacher stability, education of teachers, parent involvement, leadership stability, high graduation rate, before and after school, preschool, and summer school programs, a new high school in the works, and the fact that students go on to highly competitive institutions.

      The consultants then probed the issue of whether the emphasis should be on a manager or a leader. Garr noted that there is often a tradeoff between one and the other. Members said they were looking for someone to go beyond maintaining the status quo. Fletcher said she would love to have a good long range strategic plan.

      Attempts to do long range strategic planning in recent years, led by former member Jeff Dieffenbach for the School Committee and Burton for the administration, have had only modest results.

      Member Malcolm Astley, however, spoke to the need for an operational manager to deal with the largely new members of the superintendent's staff.

      Chairman Louis Jurist opened a special public comment period before the consultants left. One commenter said Wayland needs a new superintendent with vision. The current superintendent has been criticized as lacking vision.

      -- Tom Sciacca

      READER THOUGHTS ON VALUES FORUM

      As promised in an earlier WVN Alert, here are suggestions from readers about topics they would like to see discussed at a forum scheduled for Wednesday Sept. 29 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m at the Town Building.

      Since the Sept. 21 Alert was posted, the selectmen have issued details about the format.

      The forum is designed "to spark a dialogue on how we define ourselves as a community." After presentations, citizens will gather in small groups to discuss two topics: Wayland's "semi-rural" character and "What qualities make Wayland a desirable place to live?" A 2009 forum was devoted to "the state of the town."

      Some reader concerns may not fit neatly into that format, though their subtext is that local government should spend wisely, involve citizens in a collegial way and take great care to balance conflicting interests over the long run. Here are the responses.

      -- Talk about the positive aspects of Wayland and how to build on them.

      -- Traditionally one of the strong values of this town has been volunteerism. It was long recognized that we couldn't hire the caliber of people that we could get for free as volunteers. The number of open slots has increased markedly. How can we expect to attract volunteers when the selectmen routinely oppose other town boards, even to the extent of undermining them in legal actions?

      -- Now that we have an Economic Development Committee, will there be initiatives for zoning changes that could increase commercial tax revenues but could endanger the character of the town?

      -- Borrowing for the new high school has nearly tripled Wayland's debt and may give the town the highest tax rate in Eastern Massachusetts. What specific plans are there to make Wayland affordable?

      -- The most voluminous and specific concerns had to do with the schools, which account for roughly 70 percent of the town budget. Readers cite recent hirings which they say aren't accounted for in the budget, one is a new principal at Loker School. Readers question the School Committee's claimed cost savings and assert that Guidance Department hours have been cut back. There isn't room here to enumerate the many school-related comments. You can find out more at a citizen-run website:

      www.waylandtransparency.com

      -- If the biggest challenges facing the town are financial, wouldn't it be more appropriate to have a fiscal state of the town, to develop a sustainable long term plan?

      -- Overcrowding at Happy Hollow and larger class sizes there than at Claypit are unacceptable.
      What's the plan to rectify this NOW so that the school department keeps its word to offer equal educational opportunities on both sides of town?

      -- It is long overdue to uncouple the town's values from a failed plan to deliver an upscale shopping center.

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor