WVN #240: $1.896 million override decision
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Wayland voters will decide on a property tax override on April 8
in the wake of recent override rejections by six of eight eastern
Massachusetts towns including Sudbury and Harvard. The
$1.896 million Wayland override on the ballot is the fifth in
seven years and smaller than the previous two.
Taxpayers will be hit with a 2.5 percent increase under Prop.
2-1/2 in any case.
Question 1, the operating override, would add roughly 3.9
percent more, and permanently.
Ballot Question 2, a $1.93 million debt exclusion, would add
about one-half of one percent but wouldn't be permanent. (For
details see the section on Question 2 below.)
Add them all up, and with the small additional amount under
the Community Preservation Act you have a rough estimate of 7
This newsletter will summarize the arguments for and against
the override and the consequences if it passes and if it fails.
SUGGESTION TO READERS: Please pass this newsletter along
to at least five people you know who may not be aware of the
issues in this important town election. Thanks.
LIVE COVERAGE OF CONTROVERSIAL DPW ISSUE
Adding to the controversy over creating a Department of Public
Works is the fact that the Park and Recreation Commission
unanimously and vigorously opposes it. To learn more, attend
the Monday April 7 Commission meeting or watch the live
WayCAM telecast. The proposed DPW will be the major agenda
item. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and public comment is
scheduled for 7:50 p.m., just before discussion begins. Voters
will decide the issue at Town Meeting, which begins on
Thursday April 10. At Candidates Night on April 2 Commissioner
Anna Meliones said the Commission is compelled to fight for the
integrity of programs that serve many residents ranging from
toddlers to seniors. A DPW would decrease rather than increase
efficiency, she said, would result in higher immediate costs
to the town and wouldn't produce significant long-term savings.
OVERRIDE EFFECT ON YOUR TAX BILL
Look at the the Total Assessment line at the bottom of the tax bill
you received recently. Multiply that by .07 and you'll have a rough
idea of the effect on your finances if both questions pass and are
then approved at Town Meeting on April 10. If this were repeated
every year your taxes would double in about 10 years.
Proponents of the operating override talk about painful cuts if the
override fails. Those who oppose it talk about painful
consequences to many taxpayers if it passes.
ALL OR NOTHING CHOICE
As in 2006 Wayland lumps everything into one question, unlike
other towns such as Sudbury and Duxbury. "No department goes
unscathed" if the override fails, as Board of Selectmen Chairman
Bill Whitney puts it. Thus health and safety are treated the same
as, say, school athletic teams or the hours town offices are
open. Lisa Valone of the influential pro-school ballot question
committee SOSWayland appeared before the selectmen to
endorse the single-option choice.
Alan Reiss, the only selectman who opposes the override,
advocates setting priorities, with health and safety first, and
finding ways to end the steady reliance on overrides. He and
other opponents say the town won't look seriously at spending
unless forced to.
Proponents say the proposed cuts would cost the jobs of a fire
fighter and two police officers and force the Cochituate fire
station to close at times. SOSWayland predicts "potentially far
slower response times for life-saving emergency measures."
The Council on Aging would be closed one day a week, limiting
the ability to handle serious matters of medical appointments
and meal delivery. Reiss estimates the cost of keeping these
services at present levels at about $240,000, which he says
could be transferred from Wayland's $5 million cash reserve
without endangering the town's bond rating.
WILL EMERGENCY SERVICES REALLY BE CUT?
To some opponents, the Finance Committee and selectmen
majority are using the threat to emergency services to "coerce"
Yes votes. The Cochituate station handles the majority of
emergency calls and is the closer station to all but one of
Wayland's schools. The choice becomes: If you want the
quarter-million-dollar cost of consistent and rapid emergency
service you must vote for an override nearly eight times that size.
Opponents, including the ballot question committee Save Our
Citizens, note that last-minute budget adjustments allow the
station to remain open 95 percent of the time even if the override
fails. They quote Selectmen Reiss and Doug Leard as
promising to ask Town Meeting voters to approve further funding
to keep the station open at all times. If the override fails, Town
Meeting will be asked to approve a smaller budget.
The selectmen-appointed Finance Committee and four of the
selectmen support the override, noting that the amount was
shaved from $2.6 million. They say pension and health
insurance increases consume the 2.4 percent annual tax
increase allowed by law without an override. They describe the
budget as "level-funded" for several years and cite the work of an
ad hoc committee in finding additional savings. After two
decades of Prop. 2-1/2, they argue, there is no more fat to cut
from the proposed $60-million budget. They acknowledge that
overrides may be necessary every year or two until the situation
improves. There are some encouraging signs of greater state
aid, added commercial tax revenue and a slower pace of health
care increases, but nothing that translates into significant
WHAT WOULD BE CUT?
The list of cuts (see Page 10 of your pink Town Meeting Warrant
booklet) is long and varied: reduced hours at the library, layoffs of
elementary teachers and school librarians and staff, some high
school teams and all Middle School athletics, delays in road
work, cutbacks in other town departments. Superintendent Gary
Burton says, "We would see an increase in class sizes at all
three levels." (Opponents respond that there is no conclusive
evidence that, within a certain range, class size affects students'
performance.) Details at the websites of the FinCom
www.wayland.ma.us/accounting/index.htm and the School
OVERRIDES GOOD FOR BOND RATING?
Override proponents argue that passing overrides helps
Wayland retain its Moody's Aaa bond rating. Those arguments
are countered in a recent MetroWest Daily News story.
"Passing the override to raise the tax limit does not necessarily
translate to a better bond rating," Susan Kendall, a Moody's
Investment Service analyst, told the News.
"If the override fails but we put into action our 'Plan B' for the
budget, then most likely it won't affect our rating," Wayland
Treasurer Paul Keating said. "If it fails but the town proceeds
blindly with the budget then that would be a different issue."
Many factors make up a bond rating, officials say, among them
balancing the budget , borrowing modestly and keeping strong
Though FinCom Chair Cherry Karlson predicted at a budget
hearing that retaining the Aaa bond rating would save the town
hundreds of thousands of dollars in borrowing costs, she
appeared at a Board of Selectmen meeting later with a
clarification. Saving hundreds of thousands would require a
great deal of debt, she explained.
Wayland officials are indeed talking about taking on a great deal
of debt in the near future. If Wayland dropped to the next rating,
Keating estimated, it would pay an additional 5 to 10 basis
points in interest at current rates. (A basis point is
one-hundredth of one percentage point.) Using the larger
figure, Wayland would save about $5,500 over the life of a
10-year, $1 million loan. Officials have discussed a highway
garage at $14 million, a municipal building at the Town Center,
cost unknown, and High School renovations or replacement.
Even with the state paying 40 percent of the cost, a new school
could cost $50 million or more.
-- Michael Short
The second question on the ballot asks for a debt exemption of
$1.93 million for a variety of repairs and replacements.
Approval requires a majority vote at the polls and a two-thirds
approval at town meeting. A copy of the ballot is at
Since this item has received less press than the operating
override, and the amount isn't specified on the ballot, an
explanation might be in order.
What's included in the $1.93 million?
Lately, the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee have
preferred to bundle capital projects into one vote. In the past, the
Town Meeting afforded the opportunity to vote on individual items
proposed for funding by debt.
Once the debt is paid off, taxes on that debt vanish. However,
Wayland has a propensity to replenish the expiring debt load
with new projects, so the tax burden from debt doesn't seem to
shrink very much if at all.
As recently as 2004 the Town Meeting Warrant booklet itemized
the debt in detail to make it easy for the voters to know the
impact of new debt items. A report on debt is on page 21 of the
town's latest Annual Report, which is available at Town Hall, but
is not mailed to all residents. In Fiscal 07, the town paid
$899,333 toward its debt, which was $22.3 million at the end of
that fiscal year, an increase of nearly $1.8 million from the end of
FY 06. The report shows no debt expiring in FY 08 or FY 09. In
2010, the town will have paid off $1.095 million in debt incurred
The Finance Committee has said the cost for the debt exclusion
will be $40 for the median value home of $544,400 and a
decreasing amount in following years.
This year, the FinCom has conservatively requested only
$125,000 in capital items as part of the operating budget. The
rest lies in the proposed debt exemption.
WHAT WILL $1.93 MILLION BUY?
What will this $1.93 million buy for the town? Capital items
come in three categories: building repairs, and equipment and
vehicles costing more than $100,000.
Some liberty is taken with the last category. For instance, the
$315,000 proposed for school "technology" undoubtedly involves
many personal computers, each of which costs far less than
$100,000 and has a shorter useful life than is often preferred for
Speaking of schools, there is also $300,000 for building repairs
including: $20,000 lighting upgrade in the middle school;
$40,000 to repair walkways and create ADA-compliant ramps at
entrances to the middle school; $100,000 for HVAC connection
at middle school, $90,000 to upgrade fire alarm and doorway
holdback systems at the three elementary schools; $40,000
carpet replacement at Happy Hollow and Claypit Hill.
Other building repairs are also included in the debt exemption,
such as $895,000 for repairs to town buildings. The majority
($600,000) is for the water-damaged, five-year-old Public Safety
Building. Because the building sits on a high water table, the
town has been involved in litigation and repairs for years.
Other buildings included in this amount are the library
($105,000), town building ($140,000), and Cochituate Station 2
The Highway Department wants $85,000 for a study of the Route
30 and 27 intersection as well as $45,000 in truck attachments
and $35,000 for traffic calming. The intersection study is
preliminary to having the state improve the intersection. Also on
the schedule is $145,000 for a truck for the landfill/transfer
station. The FinCom has said the type of operation of this facility
when the landfill reaches capacity will determine if the town buys
For Park and Rec, there's $200,000 to replace the light posts for
the Cochituate ball field, which are said to be nearing the end of
their life. This ball field is often cited as the poster child for
overused fields in Wayland, so one is prompted to ask whether
we will be hearing in a year or two we should have an artificial
turf field to maximize the use of the lights?
The full details may be found in the Town Meeting Warrant, page
38, and the School Committee FY09 Budget Message, page 7.
The Finance Committee presentation is at
-- Molly Upton
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Michael Short, Editor