WVN #265: Sudden bump in tax bills?
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Will taxpayers see a large, sudden jump in their tax bills next year?
Also in this newsletter:
-- The High School Building Committee is waiting to hear from the state whether it will have to change management and architectural firms for a renovation or replacement proposal.
-- North and south, it's CVS.
-- A taxpayers' suit asserting that Wayland illegally used preservation funds for artificial turf has been dismissed without a decision on the central issue.
Special Town Meeting begins Wednesday Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Middle School, a new and temporary location. Details on issues and logistics in the next WVN newsletter.
ASSESSORS AWAIT STATE
The clock is ticking toward the deadline for mailing third quarter tax bills, and the Wayland Board of Assessors is pondering how to avoid sending out estimated bills for the third quarter, which it has not had to do before. The
Board has not heard whether it will receive preliminary certification from the state, after which it can send out impact notices to all residents giving residents the opportunity to correct their property descriptions and valuation
before the final assessments are set.
Assistant Assessor Molly Reed said she will ask the state if her office can issue the impact notices prior to preliminary certification, as the town has done in the past. When she asked the local Department of Revenue officials
about this, she received a skeptical response.
If the town does send out estimated bills for the third quarter, residents whose property values have risen will have to make up the difference in only one payment, without any forewarning.
This year is a revaluation year, which occurs every three years. The state is currently asking many more questions of Wayland than in other revaluation years, Reed said.
The revaluation involved adjusting land values as the revaluation was only a drive-by, with wholesale grade adjustments made on some streets. The interiors of homes still have not been inspected any more than usual. Thus
citizens have an opportunity to correct the "mass appraisal" as it relates to their properties after receiving the impact notice.
The assessors plan to alert the 25 properties on sloped land on Dudley Pond that their steep discount of last year has been discontinued.
In addition, the assessors are listing the mistaken, initial high values as the Fiscal 2008 (last year's) values for all of Dudley Pond. The values were so far off that the assessors requested the residents to file appeals. This will make
some of the 2009 values appear as a decrease when they may in fact be increases.
WVN has heard numerous tales from people who had their assessments reduced after filing abatements in prior years, but who were surprised to find their property records had not been corrected, thus necessitating another
round of appeals the next year.
Incorrect information can mean time-consuming effort for residents and added town expense.In the current economic climate, with the emphasis on efficiency, perhaps this is one area that could be addressed.
H.S. AWAITS STATE
The new regulations from the Massachusetts School Building Authority may require the Wayland High School Building Committee (HSBC) to select a different contractor and architect than its first choices.
The HSBC is reviewing alternative choices for a contractor because Turner Construction has indicated it has problems with signing the contract required by the School Building Authority. The state has not yet approved the
designer that Wayland submitted in early September, HFMH, the same one as in 2004.
The committee hopes for state reimbursement of about 40 percent.
Meantime, Ai3, the architectural firm that designed the Whitman-Hanson high school cited by the state as an example of fiscal prudence while serving academic needs, has offices on Route 20 across from the Wayland Post Office.
Another potential hurdle: the HSBC still disagrees with the state estimate of future high school enrollment, which determines the size of the project. The state projects a student population of 913 while Wayland believes it will be
between 950 and 1050. Rather than challenge on a numbers basis, the committee decided to proceed to rationalize space according to its educational program needs.
This is the same approach the committee took last time, when the state indicated Wayland was 'overprogramming' space needs. Residents may recall that the original proposals for high school renovations or new construction
were based on the educational program and a projected enrollment of 1,100.
The good news is that if the committee takes a really hard look at educational programming needs, rather than the status quo, it may find, for example, that it doesn't need space for a computer room (many other schools have
laptops on racks that are wheeled around).
The MSBA has proposed a list of nonfunded items including athletic fields, outdoor tracks, stadia, bleachers, concession stands; wastewater treatment facilities, sewers and water lines; and site remediation and clean-up.
There will be a public hearing Nov. 13 concerning proposed amendments and revisions to the MSBA's regulations. HYPERLINK "http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/main_ektid800.aspx"
NORTH AND SOUTH, IT'S CVS
CVS is still trying to locate a store in the current Caraways location on Route 20, but has run into changes required by the state to accommodate subterranean water flow.
Apparently in addition, CVS is proposing to take over the entire area occupied by Morns, Grape Ideas, Dunkin Donuts etc. at the corner of Route 27 and East Plain, (131/133 Main Street), demolish two buildings and construct a
13,000-square-foot building that's about 31 feet tall.
The plans for Main Street need special permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which triggered an advisory site plan review hearing by the Planning Board. That meeting Nov. 3 packed the large hearing room. Members of the
Planning Board questioned the validity and adequacy of the traffic impact study done in June, the need for a compactor and two drive-through stations, and the location of the building in the middle of the parcel rather than
closer to the street.
The Planning Board hearing continues on Nov. 18.
Once again, the attorney is Wayland resident Brian Levey, who brought us the Goddard School on Route 30 and is also representing proposed 40B affordable housing at the site of the former Kathryn Barton Nursing Home as well
as the CVS proposal on Route 20. The engineer is the brother of Planning Board member Kevin Murphy, who has not recused himself from this hearing.
So the players are the same, only the location has changed.
The proposed building is large for the parcel, as demonstrated by CVS representatives' protests that moving the building would impact its traffic flow within the site and/or reduce parking spaces. As presented, the compactor and
dumpster were close to the residential neighbor on the east.
CVS is seeking special permits from the Zoning Board for fewer parking spaces than Wayland regulations require and for a change in setback. One CVS representative said that if necessary, it could build a subterranean parking
garage on the site. This drew widespread laughter from the crowd.
This appears to be a case of a national corporation having a standard building design to plunk down, rather than more thoughtfully fitting the building to the site and the neighborhood.
The building is proposed to be 13,013 square feet. The second largest building allowed at the Town Center planned for Route 20 is 15,000. In fact, the plans for the Town Center include a 15,000-square-foot drug store. So an
obvious question is why won't CVS investigate the Town Center location?
-- Molly Upton
CONROY, BROWN RE-ELECTED
State Rep. Tom Conroy defeated his fellow Waylander and Republican predecessor Sue Pope on Nov. 4 to retain the seat representing Wayland. Sudbury and Lincoln. He won about 60 percent of the vote and took Wayland, 4454
votes to 3258.
Eighty-nine percent of registered Wayland voters turned out.
State Sen. Scott Brown (R-Wrentham) lost in Wayland but easily won re-election. Wayland went for Democrat Sara Orozco, a newcomer, 3935-3464.
Wayland voters were on the winning side in other races: U.S. Sen. John Kerry over Jeffrey Beatty (5385-2358); Question 1, Eliminate state income tax (No 5696-Yes 2310); Question 2, Decrease marijuana possession penalty (Yes
5571- No 2429); Question 3, End dog racing (Yes 5329-No 2593); Barack Obama for President over John McCain (5474-2470).
TURF SUIT DISMISSED
A judge has dismissed a suit by 13 Wayland residents who complained that Wayland illegally used Community Preservation Act funds for artificial turf at the high school football field.
The judge ruled on a technical issue and didn't address the underlying issue of whether the use of the CPA funds violated the law.
The suit was filed shortly after a 2006 special Town Meeting vote to spend $300,000 in CPA funds to augment private donations for the $1 million project. The residents argued that the Act -- which applies to preservation,
affordable housing and new recreational land -- doesn't permit using the funds to renovate existing facilities. Wayland's Community Preservation funds are collected through a surcharge of about 1.5 percent on property tax bills.
A recent decision by the state's highest court in a Newton suit strengthened the Wayland residents' argument. But Superior Court Judge H. J. Smith Jr.'s Oct. 29 ruling on the Wayland suit says that the Supreme Judicial Court
decision doesn't apply because the local action was filed under a statute that doesn't allow recovery of money already spent. The Wayland taxpayers had not requested any financial recovery by the town or themselves from the
contractors on the project.
The residents filed suit soon after the Town Meeting vote, but the turf was installed, paid for and in use by the fall of 2007, before the suit was heard and decided.
If the plaintiffs had initially asked for a preliminary injunction, the court would have had to rule on whether to prevent the $300,000 from being spent. That could have been a lengthy and more complicated action. The town's
position was represented at no cost to the town by lawyers who live in Wayland and work for Ropes & Gray, one of Boston's largest firms.
George Harris, a lawyer and Wayland resident who filed the suit on behalf of the residents, told the MetroWest Daily News that it was unfortunate that the lower court didn't examine the merits of the plaintiff's position.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Oct. 24 in favor of the taxpayers who filed the Newton lawsuit, saying that Newton's improvements (which didn't include artificial turf) didn't represent preservation.
"I would hope and believe that the preservation justification for using artificial turf would not be tried again," Harris said.
John Donovan, one of the of Ropes & Gray lawyers from Wayland, said he believes towns considering using CPA funds will do so "with an eye to what the Supreme Court did in Newton's case."
Before the 2006 special Town Meeting vote, the Wayland Board of Selectmen quarreled with the town's Community Preservation Committee, which was divided on using the funds and had received a legal opinion from the state
that the proposed use seemed to be outside the scope of the Act. When the suit was filed, selectmen promised a vigorous defense and predicted a court victory.
After the Superior Court decision, Selectmen Chairman Michael Tichnor issued and then withdrew a statement asserting that the judge had upheld the town's position that that "the turf field project was within the permissible
uses for CPA funds." In a later statement Tichnor said, "We're certainly pleased with the judge's decision in the case; we're certainly not surprised with the decision. This was a most worthwhile project, as is evident by the fact that
the field is being used by people all around town."
The legal issue was not whether the project was a good one, but whether it was lawful to use preservation funds to pay for it.
-- Michael Short
WVN Newsletter #264 reported that the activist group SOSWayland was soliciting funds to oppose Question 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot. The question, which failed by a wide margin, would have eliminated the state income tax.
According to Lisa Valone of SOS, "SOS is not raising or spending funds to oppose Question 1" but "merely providing information through our SOS Update (enews) about our views."
"We are raising funds for this grass roots organization for our normal, ongoing expenses such as webhosting and email newsletter management," Valone said.
As of the date of Valone's email to WVN, SOS was still registered as a ballot question committee. The committee was formed in January to advocate for the property tax override adopted last spring and the overall purpose of
"preserving town services in a fiscally responsible manner."
In the weeks before Nov. 4 SOS urged readers to vote no on Question 1. (Oct. 28: "Why we urge you to vote No on Question 1." Nov. 2: "Please vote No on Question 1.") After the election, SOS thanked readers who worked to
oppose the measure.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor