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570WVN #434: Wayland drops in tax rate ranking

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jan 5, 2012
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      If voters hadn't approved tax relief at a special Town Meeting in November, Wayland would have the highest tax rate in Massachusetts.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- The new school superintendent presents a budget up 2.35 % from last year,

      -- Town officials defend precautions against losses through bank failure.

      FY12 Tax Rates

      Sharon has the state's highest Fiscal 2012 residential tax rate, $20.11, among 330 of 351 municipalities reporting as of Jan. 4. Had Wayland residents not voted last November to apply $4 million in excess free cash to the current budget, Wayland's projected tax rate of $20.71 (used to calculate the initial FY12 tax bills) would have been the highest in the state.

      As a result of the vote, Wayland reduced its rate for the fiscal year ending on June 30 to $19.01 per thousand of assessed value. The town's FY11 rate was $19.35.

      Wayland's FY12 rate of $19.01 ties with Greenfield for the eleventh-highest residential tax rate in the state. Last year, Wayland had the fifth-highest rate.

      Of the only 12 municipalities in the state with tax rates exceeding $19, five were in eastern Massachusetts including Sharon, Bolton ($19.78), Westborough ($19.21), Amesbury ($19.13), and Wayland.

      There were only 11 towns with a tax rate of between $18.00 and $18.99, including nearby Acton, Maynard and Sherborn.

      Among Wayland's 10 "peer" towns (list revised by the Finance Committee in 2009), Wayland ranked second in residential tax rates after Sharon, followed by Sudbury ($17.60), Carlisle ($17.14). Medfield ($15.73), Lynnfield ($14.26), Lincoln ($13.81), Concord ($13.58), Scituate ($12.34), Weston ($12.11) and Cohasset ($11.98). Sudbury ranked 34th. Sudbury voters have turned down several overrides in recent years.

      The tax picture is different when one considers commercial tax rates in the state. Wayland is tied for position number 106 with Greenfield. Commercial rates can differ from residential rates if voters choose so. Wayland selectmen have always decided against a split rate for Wayland, in recent years citing the lagging economy as well as the small impact in a town with little commercial development.

      Among peer towns, three had split rates: Sudbury, Lynnfield, and Lincoln. Wayland's commercial rate ranks third behind Sudbury ($22.95) and Sharon ($20.11), followed by Lincoln ($18.17), Carlisle ($17.14) Medfield ($15.73), Lynnfield ($15.56). Concord's was $13.58 and Scituate, Weston and Cohasset again had the least expensive rates, the same as their residential rates.

      Looking at towns with AAA bond ratings, Wayland's tax rate is the highest, followed by Acton ($18.55), Lexington ($14.97), Belmont and Concord's rates were in the $13 range, while Winchester and Weston were in the $12 range, and Dover, Hingham, Wellesley, Weston, and Brookline were in the $11 range.

      -- Molly Upton


      Superintendent Paul Stein presented his proposed FY13 budget to the School Committee on Jan. 3. In keeping with Finance Committee guidelines, it came in at $32,526,368, $746,336 or 2.35% over the FY12 budget.

      $426,638 is allocated for new initiatives. Stein detailed some 17 new line items, the most expensive ($44,272) being a new high school health and wellness teacher, and ranging down to a $7,677 stipend for an Instructional Technology Department chair. Five items increased support for math and science teaching at all levels.

      Notable new items are Chinese in grade 7 (which will be extended upward in future years) and a China Exchange program at the high school.

      The budget supports $200,000 to lease computers for all high school students, known as the 1:1 Student Computer Learning Initiative. Individual computer purchases were shifted this year from the capital budget to the operating budget, at FinCom request. Infrastructure technology spending remains a capital item.

      $100,000 is allocated to the operation of the new wastewater treatment plant at the high school, which began operation on Tuesday. The plant, which uses reverse osmosis technology, is designed to protect the nearby Happy Hollow wells. The conventional septic systems used for the old high school have put the wells at risk for the last 50 years. As it may be the highest technology treatment plant in the state, the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) is requiring extensive monitoring.

      Not included was a provision for district paid Full Day Kindergarten (FDK). Stein commented that the $600,000 required to fund it would have eliminated every other new initiative, and he is unaware of any studies proving a major benefit for students in a town like Wayland. FDK will continue to be offered as an optional fee-based program.

      The superintendent's presentation is here:

      The full FY13 budget proposal is here:

      The full proposal contains detailed explanations and justifications for each new initiative line item.

      During public comment, resident Kim Cook, one of the lead petitioners for the fall Town Meeting article resulting in the $4 million transfer, noted that the proposed FY13 budget includes 12.5 new employees. She questioned whether the salaries slated for some of those employees, particularly those in technology roles with which she is familiar, are above market rates.

      The School Committee will present the proposal to the public in a forum next Monday, Jan. 9.

      -- Tom Sciacca


      In Newsletter #433 WVN wrote that the town's auditing firm, Melanson & Heath, included in its recent FY11 report a warning about the risks of depositing money in banks beyond FDIC insurance limits. Wayland officials are defending the way they handle town funds.

      Fifty-three percent of Wayland's investments are beyond FDIC limits. The limit means that if a bank fails, the depositor is reimbursed by the agency only up to a point. Other Massachusetts municipalities surveyed report percentages ranging from 9% (Wellesley) to 90% (Andover). Sudbury is at 61%, Weston at 18.8%.

      Town Treasurer Paul Keating says Wayland invests in 12 banks, of which six are fully collateralized, meaning that in those six deposits are entirely safe.

      "The other six are large stable banks that have been around for many years," Keating said. "Collateralization is a costly item for banks and that is reflected in the low interest rate we receive from those banks."

      Melanson & Heath had said the town lacks a deposit policy for custodial credit risk. "We do have an investment policy," Keating said.

      -- Michael Short

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor