WVN #237: Warmup override debate
- Dear Wayland Voter,
A public hearing before voters decide important matters is
designed to give citizens the chance to ask questions and clarify
language. But Monday's hearing on the April 8 property tax
overrides became a spirited warmup for the coming campaign.
By the end of the session the two selectmen running for
reelection, Joe Nolan and Alan Reiss, had put on a brief but
heated debate. Residents offered opinions as well as
This newsletter will outline both the $1.896 million operating
budget override and the $1.93 million capital debt exclusion
Also in this newsletter: More on WayCAM taping of meetings.
$1.896 MILLION OVERRIDE
Though some towns offer a menu of override choices, in
Wayland it is all or nothing for each of the two measures. There
are arguments against this system whenever an override is
If voters approve the ballot question at the town election and the
annual Town Meeting two days later, there will be an additional
permanent tax increase estimated at 3.97 percent. The override
total was trimmed from $2.6 million and is smaller than the two
most recent overrides. This would be the fifth override in seven
years. You can see the complete Finance Committee report at
Health care and pensions continue to increase rapidly, eating up
virtually all of the tax increase allowed under Prop. 2-1/2, the
FinCom said. State aid has declined in recent years.
The effect on the taxpayer is estimated at $323 for a residence
assessed at the median of $544,000. That's just under 60 cents
per $1000 of assessed valuation; you can derive a total for your
own property. For a more complete estimate of the impact on
your household, add the 2-1/2 percent increase allowed under
state law and the percentage from the debt exclusion (see
below). The total increase is roughly 7 percent if all proposals
pass. The Community Preservation Act adds a little over 1
percent to your tax BILL, not the rate.
According to the Finance Committee, if the override fails
$605,000 will be cut from the non-school part of the budget: the
loss of a fire fighter and two police officers and cutbacks at the
library and other departments.
For the schools, cuts totaling $1.291 million would mean larger
classes, loss of some teachers, assistants and librarians, fewer
co-curricular activities, fewer sports at the High School and none
at the Middle School. Schools account for about 70 percent of
The selectmen support the override 4-1; the FinCom, appointed
by the selectmen, supports it unanimously.
$1.93 MILLION CAPITAL DEBT EXCLUSION
This question would authorize the town to borrow for repairs and
equipment. Unlike the operating override, the tax increase would
last only as long as the debt, most of which would be for 8 to 10
years. As existing debt is retired, new debt is added.
The effect on taxpayers is estimated at $40 annually for the
median $544,000 house, or about 7.4 cents per $1000 of
Nearly a third of the total, $600,000, is for repairs at the Public
Safety Building, which since it opened in 2003 has been plagued
with problems caused by its location atop a high water table.
Such things as basement flooding and mold must be dealt with.
The matter remains in litigation as the town spends money on
repairs and lawyers. The goal is to recover at least some of that
Other expenses: $85,000 for design work on the Route 27/30
intersection; a $145,000 landfill vehicle, which will be bought
only if the reorganized landfill needs it; $200,000 for new lights at
the Cochituate Field, where poles are said to be dangerously
weak; $290,000 for repairs to school buildings; $313,000 for
The selectmen and FinCom support the debt exclusion
Q AND A, COMMENT, DEBATE
Citizens at the well-attended hearing wanted to know if there will
be an operating override next year, every other year, or when.
FinCom members pointed to hopeful indications. Since the tax
increase is permanent, its effects continue. State aid may
increase, though the 2009 budget includes only what FinCom
Chair Cherry Karlson called a conservative $50,000 increase
above previous estimates. There are signs that the rate of
pension health increases may decline. The plan is NOT to need
an override every year, said Karlson.
What about programs to help seniors who have a hard time with
SENIORS NOTE: CHECK WITH THE COUNCIL ON AGING if you
think you might be eligible for any programs already in place.
State Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) was at the hearing and said
the Senate could take up a House-passed senior tax relief bill as
early as this week. The measure has attracted opponents as
well as supporters.
What about priorities? One attendee said that public safety could
be fully funded if the schools eliminated a few administrative
jobs in response to declining enrollment. This and other
thoughts about priorities led to lively discussion.
As in 2006, the 2008 list of no-override cuts threatens fire, police
and emergency services. It also includes a 28 percent cut to the
Council on Aging, which accounts for .5 percent of the town
Selectman Alan Reiss, the lone opponent of the operating
override, sparred repeatedly with Joe Nolan and other
selectmen. Reiss advocates maintaining the CoA and the police
and fire departments at current levels by cutting elsewhere.
When Nolan mentioned that his mother is a senior living in
Wayland, Reiss said, "OK, let's prioritize." Nolan shot back that
Reiss was dealing in generalities.
Another selectman candidate, Mark Santangelo, took issue with
an argument that savings from creating a Department of Public
Works Department would relieve some financial pressure in
years to come. Santangelo, a road commissioner and
selectman candidate two years ago, said that the special
committee studying the DPW proposal (an April Town Meeting
article) presented no cost savings.
Officials defended the new union contract with Wayland teachers
after an attendee noted that they still appear to be at or near the
top among Massachusetts teachers. Selectman Reiss said the
teachers had initially been asked to accept a no-increase
contract but won more-generous terms.
BOND RATING AND CASH
FinCom Chair Karlson noted that Wayland is among only 12
Massachusetts municipalities with Moody's top bond rating.
Karlson said she assumes a rate 25 basis points (one-quarter
of one percent) below that for the next lower rating. But rates
change rapidly. Two days after the hearing the spread on a
10-year obligation was 13 basis points.
Though override supporters sometimes argue that passing
overrides helps to retain the top bond rating, there are many
factors in a Moody's decision. A bond rating is ultimately based
not on how big a budget is but whether a town lives within that
budget and is in a position to pay its debts.
Free cash, a measure of a town's fiscal strength and stability
valued by Moody's, is at 8.7 percent, Karlson said. The goal is to
remain between 5 and 10 percent.
-- Michael Short
MORE ON WAYCAM TAPING
Since WVN Newsletter #236 commented on problems resulting
in incomplete coverage of the March 3 Board of Selectmen
meeting, citizens and now the board itself have expressed
Some viewers and readers feared that WayCAM hadn't
preserved recent meetings. WayCAM assures citizens that it
maintains an archive of meeting tapes for at least six months
and has a permanent archive of Town Meetings.
WVN's article recommended a longer archive period for meeting
tapes, a need demonstrated recently by the Loker School
parents' search for documentation of 2007 meetings showing an
understanding that Happy Hollow School would remain open.
At the March 17 meeting the selectmen acknowledged that
citizens value WayCAM live and taped broadcasts of
governmental meetings. They voted to ask WayCAM to keep an
archive for at least two years. But at the same time they indicated
that WayCAM should bear complete responsibility for the
operation. This indicates a break with tradition.
WayCAM is independent of town government and is supported
by local cable TV revenues.
Selectman Michael Tichnor said that WayCAM expects added
revenue from Verizon, the new competitor for Wayland business,
and should be in charge of "quality control" for taping and
Selectman Alan Reiss, an engineer, said that $200 in equipment
could provide the means to create virtually unlimited digital
storage of meetings.
The problem of manpower remains. WayCAM says it lacks
enough volunteers to be at every selectmen's meeting. The
selectmen say they are busy with town business and aren't
running a TV production.
The outcome could be that the town administrator will no longer
flip the TV controls, as has been the practice since WayCAM
Incidentally, during this discussion Tichnor accused WVN,
though not by name, of suggesting that officials "manipulated"
the tapes. In fact, WVN's summary of the March 3 technical and
human lapses noted that the meeting was one that the Board
would have been proud to make available to the public.
-- Michael Short
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Michael Short, Editor