WVN #294: 2 ballot questions on borrowing
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The back of your April 7 ballot contains two questions that will mean little if you haven't done your homework. That's just the way these things are done.
This newsletter will outline what you need to know.
The questions are on the ballot because voters must approve borrowing beyond the limits of the state's Proposition 2-1/2.
The Fiscal 2010 budget voters will consider at Town Meeting on April 13 also contains new borrowing within the 2-1/2 limits: $270,000 for items with a short life span and $1.065 million for more durable things such as a dump truck. For details see Page 7 of the green-covered Town Meeting warrant mailed to residents.
QUESTION 1 was to be included with the items in Question 2, but Wayland officials discovered that the state wants it as a separate question because it involves building or renovating a school.
The texts of both questions appear on Page 17 of the warrant. As is usual, neither lists a dollar amount.
Question 1 would approve borrowing $726,000 for the feasibility and preliminary design stage toward a new or renovated Wayland High School. The good news is that the net borrowing is expected to be $315,600. Under the rules by which Wayland is working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the town must authorize the higher figure, but the state will reimburse 40 percent. Design funds approved by voters in 2007 bring the borrowing down further to $315,600.
Wayland's is one of 16 Massachusetts projects that have reached this stage.The town's High School Building Committee has been working on a project for five years. In January 2005, when no state reimbursement was available, voters rejected the HSBC's proposal for a new campus costing more than $50 million. A couple of years later it was estimated that inflation had brought the price for the same design to more than $80 million.
Massachusetts stopped funding school building when its generous system ran aground. When a new system was installed, the Massachusetts School Building Authority offered pay-as-you-go reimbursement in return for greater state control and collaboration. The MSBA must agree on projections of student population, for example.
HSBC Chair Lea Anderson says, "We will not be pursuing the Newton North approach...They (MSBA) will not allow Taj Mahals." (Newton is building a school estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $200 million.)
Voting Yes on Question 1 assures that Wayland will proceed immediately to the next stage. Thus it is possible that this fall voters will be asked to approve borrowing tens of millions of dollars in stages for final designs and construction. The School Committee estimates completion by 2013 at the earliest.
MSBA Chair Katherine Craven recently issued a statement reassuring municipalities that money has been set aside for the 106 projects now accepted to work with the agency. Craven predicted that funding will also support dozens of additional projects.
Four MSBA projects have been completed and 28 are in later stages than Wayland's. Wayland's agreement calls for 40 percent reimbursement.
There is widespread agreement that the campus needs work.
The High School needs to be modernized and expanded, Anderson says, because the buildings -- some of them a half-century old -- are in poor shape despite renovations from 1989-92 that were advertised to last for decades. Accreditation organizations say that the campus as it stands interferes with carrying out educational needs.
If approved, Question 1 must then be enacted by a simple majority as Article 7 at Town Meeting.
What if voters reject Question 1?
The School Committee has been quoting State Sen. Scott Brown, who says, "If you pass up this opportunity I fear you won't have another one."
And Wayland officials (including Finance Committee arguments for Article 7) warn about losing a coveted place "in the pipeline."
The School Building Authority doesn`t see it quite that way.
There is no "end of the line," MSBA spokeswoman Diane Sullivan told WVN. The Authority recognizes that cities ands towns face difficulties, she said, and doesn't remove a project simply because it falls behind schedule. Sullivan said that the MSBA would stay in touch with cities and towns in that situation and help them work toward a completed project.
The MSBA is saying, in effect, that it will stick to its existing agreements regardless of the state's economy. State Treasurer Tim Cahill says he is confident about MSBA funding.
One argument for proceeding quickly is that architects and contractors may be hungry in recessionary times. On the other hand, some believe the economy could improve relatively soon. And nobody knows what interest rates will be when the time comes to apply for loans.
The late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said that economic forecasting exists mainly to give astrology a good name.
QUESTION 2 calls for $1.08 million in borrowing and includes building repairs, public safety improvements and $200,000 for a Full List and Measure to attack problems with assessment fairness and accuracy.
$410,000 Repairs on several town buildings
$85,000 Library repairs (mostly new carpeting)
$210,000 New ambulance
$30,000 Equipment to improve Advanced Life Support service
$200,000 Full List & Measure
$45,000 Handicapped-accessible ramp at Happy Hollow School
$75,000 Department of Environmental Protection monitoring of a spill from an oil tank
about 20 years ago under a building slab at Claypit Hill School
$25,000 Repairs to athletic fields.
If approved on April 7, Question 2 will be voted as part of the Omnibus Budget at Town Meeting.
The Finance Committee stresses that many items were cut to achieve a measure that is budget-neutral, meaning that an equivalent or larger debt is being paid off. Your taxes won't go up, and they won't go down either.
The tax effect of rejecting the measures would be negligible.
The Finance Committee estimates that Question 1 represents about $3 per $100,000 of assessed valuation and Question 2 $5.75 per $100,000.
What is Wayland's debt situation?
Wayland's debt limit is $170,187,305, according to Town Treasurer Paul Keating, and remaining borrowing capacity is $141,319,381. Thus outstanding debt is $28,876,924.
How much debt has been paid off recently? Some $2.9 million came off the books in Fiscal 2008 and $3.1 million in Fiscal 2009, Keating said.
This level of detail has not appeared in the warrant for several years. When asked at hearings for details, such as the amount of debt being paid off, Finance Committee members have often said they didn't have the figure.
-- Michael Short
Tuesday April 7. Polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots available at town clerk's office until Monday. You can download an application for an absentee ballot at:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor