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WVN #284: Leard withdraws, Town Center problem, Big abatement workload

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, The latest bump on the road to the Town Center is a protest from residents and businesses using the waste water treatment plant at the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The latest bump on the road to the Town Center is a protest from residents and businesses using the waste water treatment plant at the Route 20 site.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- Selectman Doug Leard drops out of a re-election race.

      -- With nearly 400 abatement applications in hand, assessors face a heavy work load.

      -- WayCAM says it's in good financial health.

      ANOTHER TOWN CENTER PROBLEM

      It was standing room only as users crowded the Feb. 2 Board of Selectmen meeting  to assert that they're being asked to pay crippling assessments to subsidize a new $5.3 million waste water system designed to support the projected 370,000-
      square-foot Town Center residential/commercial development. 

      Woody Baston of Cochituate Road, who said he spoke for nearly all of the more than three dozen customers, cited his own experience.  

      He and others who own single-family houses near the center of town will be assessed more than $28,000 each, by his calculations, to pay for the new system. And this just nine years after paying almost as much to be connected to it. 

      When voters approved  the Town Center project in May 2006 the town was assured that a new plant would cost no more than $3 million.

      The Waste Water Management District Commission has not notified these non-Town Center users of their obligation to help pay for the new plant nor made estimates of individual costs. But the Commission didn't dispute Baston's estimates. 

      Russell's Garden Center would be assessed $187,000 and the shopping center that contains Whole Foods, CVS and other businesses would be assessed more than $256,000, Baston said.

      A petition from the users to the selectmen and the Commission  declares, "We...have been kept in the dark about decisions that affect our properties, finances and livelihood...forced to calculate for ourselves what the projected cost to each of us is
      likely to be."

      Selectmen Chairman Michael Tichnor protested that the entire process had been  public, with proper notice of meetings. Nevertheless, the users said they had been taken by surprise.

      And they were  unhappy when Tichnor allowed only a few to speak. Some said they had returned from vacation to attend the meeting.

      The treatment plant was built in 1961 when Raytheon occupied the site. The town eventually  took over ownership from Dean Stratouly, who had bought the property and who later formed Twenty Wayland LLC  to develop the Town Center.

      The purpose was not to encourage development but to protect the water supply by disconnecting Route 20 businesses and nearby town buildings and houses from private septic systems. Participation was voluntary.

      Stratouly insists that he has a right to 45,000 gallons a day of disposal capacity and has agreed to pay 70 percent of the cost of a new plant. This leaves an estimated $1.59 million to be paid by the other users. 

      And that isn't the users' only complaint. They say that Twenty Wayland's design for the new plant includes amenities such as odor control and a cupola that could add  $300,000 to the cost and benefit only Twenty Wayland.

      It also includes mechanical equipment such as oversized storage tanks to accommodate peak weekend restaurant use which would not be required by a reoccupied office building.  Furthermore, the users ask how  the 70-30 split originated and say
      Stratouly hasn't paid 70 percent of maintenance costs over the past nine years.

      Baston said he could, and probably would, build a private septic system for his house, at less cost than the sewer assessment.  He raised the possibility that present users could collaborate on a modern system similar to those used at Traditions
      assisted living and a new Mainstone condo cluster. A system big enough for the users might cost as little as $300,000, Baston said.

      Waste Water Commission Chairman David Schofield said he doubted  that the present connections could legally be used. 

      According to the users, the present system served everyone adequately when Raytheon and then Polaroid still occupied the site and could see additional service before being replaced.  

      But the selectmen say  a new system is required whether the Town Center is built or not. Some authorized users aren't yet connected.

      Some selectmen explored the possibility of assessments based on usage rather than capacity. Baston, for example, estimates that he and his wife use  about 160 gallons of water a day, while they are paying for allocated capacity more than twice that
      amount. But of course if some assessments were lowered, others would rise. 

      The users also said there should be certainty about the Town Center. In other towns developers  have been required to show that a substantial proportion of the space has been leased and permits have been issued before undertaking a  major town
      expenditure.

      Some users raise the possibility that Twenty Wayland could acquire necessary  permits and then sell the property, or that financing could fall through, leaving the property unoccupied and the town responsible for the entire cost of the plant.

      The users' petition  asks for "evaluation of alternative methods of disposal to substantially reduce the projected costs" and  user participation in the decision-making.

      A permit for the new system, issued by the local office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is being appealed by environmentalists and the U.S. Interior Department. The selectmen hired a large law firm to represent the town in the appeal in
      Washington.

      The users questioned the funding of this outside legal counsel, since the primary aim may be to accelerate a resolution, which might have no value to non-Town Center users.

      The Town Center site is near federally protected wetlands and the Sudbury River. 

      Small disposal plants like those mentioned by the users as an alternative to remaining connected to the town system are often subject to a much lower level of environmental scrutiny than the planned $5.3 million system.

      -- Michael Short

      LEARD WITHDRAWS

      Doug Leard, a selectman since 2003, says he has withdrawn from the April race for another three-year term. 

      "Yesterday I went to the town clerk's office and formally withdrew my name as a candidate for re-election," he said in an email to WVN.

      "Although not functioning in the formal capacity as a selectman I plan to remain involved in town-wide issues -- i.e. ALS (Advanced Life Support) to our residents, use of Town Center gift money, COA (Council on Aging) at the municipal pad, etc."

      Leard gave no reason for withdrawing. A Cochituate resident, he was  considered easily re-electable.

      Though he voted with the Board of Selectmen majority on such issues as the Town Center and overrides, Leard established a reputation as a champion of health and safety issues and services for seniors. 

      ASSESSMENT FINDINGS

      Independent consultant Harald Scheid will present findings from the study on Wayland assessment data quality on Monday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. Scheid's firm, RRG Systems, inspected about 60 homes this fall to benchmark the accuracy of the data.

      On Feb. 23, Scheid will speak on "compliance and competencies."

      BIG ABATEMENT TASK AHEAD

      The Board of Assessors decided that the properties of all 388 recent abatement applicants need inspections, in efforts to secure accurate information.

      So those applicants who have had inspections within the last 18 months and were told they didn't need an inspection now might want to call the office and schedule an inspection. Concerns about the accuracy of property record cards prompted the
      assessors' vote to recommend that voters authorize a full list and measure, noted Chair Bruce Cummings.

      At the end of a lengthy Feb. 2 meeting that laid bare the inaccuracies and missing data and work sheets on a few properties, a resident noted that inspections are not the only answer because there are problems with the data entry. There is no
      revision control or chain of custody for data changes, she said. The information on her home has changed markedly from what the inspector said was found at the home, she said.

      The Board is studying the process to be used in evaluating the abatements, which should be completed by May 2. 

      In trying to examine the partially missing paper trail for one house, Cummings concluded that the house is nicer than the property record card indicates, and the tax bill thus does not reflect that missing information. 

      Apparently the date of the inspection visit (external only) was recorded but no other aspects were, such as the whole house air conditioning. 

      WETLANDS, OTHER CONDITIONS

      The Board also discussed how Vision Appraisal determines condition factors, and the fact that much of the wetlands information is missing from property cards. Assistant Assessor Molly Reed explained that the process was to bring everything to
      neutral and then determine through sales if there was a negative influence. She said Vision reviewed the wetland information from the town's Geographic Information System and applied condition factors using their scenarios.

      Upon questioning, she said she did not review these results. After further discussion about factors, such as those applied and not applied to properties near the Massachusetts Turnpike, she said that she looks at the statistics and if it passes the
      Department of Revenue standards.

      Cummings said he wants to know she oversaw the process, and said she should be asking the same kind of questions the Board is asking her. Assessor Susan Rufo added: "You have an obligation to understand the reports, not just read them."

      After a discussion about factors on the Mass. Pike and whether changes should be made on the basis of one year, Cummings commented, "I feel we're going from guard rail to guard rail."

      -- Molly Upton

      WAYCAM: WE'RE IN GOOD FINANCIAL HEALTH

      Despite criticism from the selectmen for its accounting practices, WayCAM says it is in good financial health.

      "WayCAM is not and never has been in financial trouble," says Ken Isaacson, president of the independent, volunteer nonprofit corporation that provides local cable programming.

      The Board of Selectmen did most of the talking at a public hearing on Jan. 26, raising  questions about accounting procedures and WayCAM's financial health. Some questions went unanswered. This week Isaacson told WVN: 

      "WayCAM presently has ample operating reserves and present and future pledged operating income from the Comcast and Verizon licenses to carry us into 2011.

      "At that time, based on revenues projected by the town (not WayCAM), the operating proceeds from the Verizon license, when matched by the upcoming Comcast renewal license, should provide more than sufficient operating funds to carry WayCAM
      adequately through the balance of the license period, barring any seismic shifts in the cable business, over which WayCAM has no control."

      As in other communities, a small part of cable customer payments support local programming, including coverage of government meetings. 

      Isaacson defended WayCAM's decision in 2006 to spend surplus operating funds on capital purchases, in effect lending  and then repaying money from one fund to another.

      "We do not consider what we did trying to use capital funds to pay for operational expenses, as has been implied," Isacson said.  

      "We had and still have ample operating funds...We received professional advice that to do so was not typical, but also not improper."

      During the hearing, selectmen had suggested that the transfers might be illegal.

      Isaacson also responded to the selectmen's criticism of WayCAM's investment in a Vanguard mutual fund designed for money that won't be needed immediately. 

      "We never required those funds to pay for current operating expenses," Isaacson said. He said the fund lost $3,878 in the recent market decline.

      Isaacson didn't question the selectmen's right, as the authority that licenses Comcast and Verizon, to raise concerns about WayCAM's finances.

      At the hearing Isaacson acknowledged that accounting had been substandard and would quickly be improved. A memorandum of agreement requires WayCAM to provide financial reports to the selectmen.

      At the Feb. 2 Board of Selectmen meeting the Board filled a vacancy on the WayCAM board with  Jerry Boos, a CPA who said he is interested in WayCAM, knows several WayCAM board members well and a few months ago was a candidate for the
      organization's treasurer. Boos also serves on Wayland's zoning board.

      Selectman Chairman Michael Tichnor told Boos he would expect him to report back periodically to the selectmen. The selectmen appoint two members, the School Committee one and WayCAM the other four. 

      Isaacson applauded the appointment: "He'll be a great asset."

      The following morning, Isaacson and Boos met with Selectman Steve Correia and Town Administrator  Fred Turkington to work on accounting and reporting procedures. 

      Selectmen have said repeatedly that they consider WayCAM a valuable and successful service, and that their only interest is in proper fiscal procedures. Though they also repeatedly disavowed any interest in programming, selectmen have more than
      once criticized WayCAM for not broadcasting live from a special Town Meeting last fall.

      The meeting  was held at the Middle School because high school field house renovations missed the promised completion date, and a one-time-only live broadcast would have required buying extra equipment.  

      -- Michael Short

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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