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WVN #315: H.S decision, and then what? State of the Town

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, In November voters face a decision on the most expensive project in town history, a new high school, which would mean a major tax increase.
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      In November voters face a decision on the most expensive project in town history, a new high school, which would mean a major tax increase. But that isn't the only important matter lying ahead.

      In the midst of the Great Recession Wayland has other projects in mind and must deal with decreased state aid and an emerging pattern of biennial property tax overrides.

      Officials aired hopes and plans at a Sept. 30 State of the Town meeting and faced questioning from residents. More than 100 people turned up for the first such meeting in five years, at least the first one open to the general public. For background see the third section of:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/365

      STATE APPROVES HIGH SCHOOL PLAN

      The chair of the High School Building Committee, Lea Anderson, announced that the Massachusetts School Building Authority had just approved an agreement with Wayland that would reimburse up to $25 million of the cost of replacing the present buildings (except the field house) with two large buildings. Voters will say yes or no at a town election on Nov. 17 and a special Town Meeting the following night.

      If approved, the project is estimated to cost about $70.8 million, though exact figures won't be known until work is put out to bid. State reimbursement is capped at $25 million even if the cost comes in above estimates.

      Scaled down from a plan that voters rejected in 2005, the new version will be built to accommodate 900 students and constructed where parking lots now exist so the campus can be be used during construction. Anderson said that moving the parking area would benefit the environment by placing lots farther from town wells.

      The HSBC will hold informational forums on Oct. 15 and Oct. 20. A registered ballot question committee, Yes4WHS, has been formed to advocate for the project. It includes leaders of SOSWayland, the group that has lobbied for schools since 2005, sometimes as a registered political action committee.

      Cost to Taxpayers

      Finance Committee Chairman Sam Peper presented estimates of the tax impact to the Board of Selectmen on Oct. 5 based on a composite interest rate of 3.5 percent. The taxes for the project will vary over time because there will be three issuances of bonds. The presentation is at:

      http://www.wayland.ma.us/accounting/HS%20Debt%20Exclusion%202009.pdf

      If approved by voters at the polls and at town meeting, during Fiscal 2011 and 2012 the average cost per $100,000 of home value would be $46. The most costly year would be FY 2013, when the impact would be $106 per $100,000 of home value.

      But looking at the full five years following the full bond issuance, FY 2013-2017, the impact would be $102 per year. Using these assumptions, the average annual cost for 25 years would be $74 per $100,000 of value. The FinCom estimates the median home valued at $650,000 would average $484 per year for 25 years.

      The model assumes $10 million issued in FY 2011, $20 million in FY 2012, and $15.8 million in FY 2013.

      Several factors that could increase or lessen the cost of the project. Interest rates, which fluctuate with market conditions, play a key role. Currently they are between 3 and 4 percent for Aaa-rated municipalities. Many economic pundits are predicting a radical rise in inflation and interest rates as the economy recovers. Another factor is construction costs.

      To help reduce costs the School Committee could sell land it owns on Alpine and Orchard Lane; grants can be pursued, especially for energy conservation; and the potential exists, as yet unexplored, of fundraising for the project. In addition, there is about $1 million in allocated funds that can be applied to the project.

      The town's present debt is $28 million. The town's legal debt limit is about $170 million, the FinCom said.

      WAYLAND'S FISCAL FUTURE

      Officials are fond of boasting about the town's fiscal health and its Aaa municipal bond rating. One contributing factor in that picture is five tax overrides during this decade when most cities and towns had few or none.

      Answering a resident's question on Sept. 30, FinCom Chairman Sam Peper acknowledged that $1.1 million was taken from free cash reserves to avoid an override in this fiscal year. He said the FinCom will do everything possible to avoid asking voters for an override next spring and said that $6.156 million in free cash remains.

      Keep in mind that unlike bonding for such things as a new high school, which lasts for the length of the borrowing, an operating override is permanent.

      A resident asked about reports showing that Wayland housing prices have dropped by about 20 percent during the recession, far more than in so-called peer towns. Ultimately the town may be paying a price for high taxes, he suggested. Selectman Michael Tichnor said the study was flawed. Selectman Joe Nolan pointed to Wayland's low commercial tax base, comparing it with that of Natick, which is not considered a peer town.

      In Weston, where property values have remained steady, the tax rate is $11.02 per $1,000 of assessed valuation; Wayland's rate is $16.37. This means an annual tax for a property assessed at $800,000 is $8,816 in Weston and $13,096 in Wayland. There are complicated relationships between tax rates and values in different places, of course, but some believe that Wayland taxes deter some potential home buyers. On the other hand, some believe that lack of a new high school deters buyers.

      In November voters will consider a surtax on meals in Wayland restaurants. This is estimated to add about $200,000 annually to tax revenues.

      Wayland is beginning to negotiate new contracts with unions covering many employees, which will affect the next annual budget.


      OTHER CAPITAL PROJECTS

      If voters approve bonding for a new high school, will that endanger plans for other buildings? FinCom Chairman Peper rejected a resident's suggestion of a moratorium on other building, saying that each need would be considered and planning would be careful. Nothing mentioned at the 2004 State of the Town meeting has been built yet. A swimming pool on that list is now slated to be built with private funds.

      Cries for more and better space have come from the Library, the Council on Aging and the new Department of Public Works. Eric Knapp, chairman of the Public Works Board that was created on July 1, said you wouldn't want to keep a pet in the aging DPW garage.

      Betsy Soule, chair of the Council on Aging, said that 25 percent of residents are age 60 or over and another 13 percent are 50-59, and many more will enter that cohort in the near future. In addition the Council serves the disabled. Wayland devotes 2,500 square feet to Council activities, Soule said, while the accepted standard for a program of this size is 19,000 square feet.

      The CoA operates on one-half of one percent of the town budget, she said.

      The Town Center commercial-residential project was planned to include land for the town to construct a municipal building. Advocates for the Wayland Library and the CoA have suggested combining the two in one building. The land has been removed for now from the developer's building permit process and it's not known where the building would go and what it would cost.

      One suggestion drew a laugh from the State of the Town crowd: a building combining the CoA and the DPW garage. Maybe it wasn't entirely facetious.

      FinCom Chairman Peper assured a questioner that long-range planning is done in public and that residents can find relevant documents on the town website. Later in the meeting Selectman Steve Correia outlined the Technology Advisory Group's plans to modernize town communications, including its website. The Library website has won awards; the town website has not.


      THE TOWN CENTER

      Some selectmen and SOSWayland from the beginning have argued that the Town Center commercial-residential development is vital to the town, providing commercial revenue to support such things as, well, a new high school. "Fits Our Town, Funds Our Future," as one of many ads promised in a blitz before the record Town Meeting vote in May 2006 to approve a 370,000-square-foot plan after a larger version was rejected.

      Some selectmen routinely estimate new tax revenue from the Town Center at $1 million annually, though the only independent estimate during better economic times came in at half that, and for a larger project fully built out. They repeated on Sept. 30 that "the town" overwhelmingly wants the project built, though the 2006 Yes vote total was 1752; most of the 8,697 registered voters at that time didn't register an opinion.

      At a recent selectmen's meeting, former Selectman Brian O'Herlihy recommended a new independent study of the financial impact of the Town Center, which would now be built, if at all, in phases. The existing 410,000-square-foot office building remains available for lease.

      The developer, Twenty Wayland, recently asked the selectmen for concessions that would cost the town promised affordable housing and immediate payment of a promised $3 million gift. Housing advocates objected. Selectmen told the State of the Town meeting that they were negotiating with the developer.

      New Terms for Development Agreement

      Five days later, the selectmen announced that after what they termed "difficult negotiations" with Twenty Wayland, Town Meeting will consider changing the original development agreement.

      The new proposal is for 12 affordable rental apartments in phase two of the retail section. The original agreement called for 25. The town would receive 1.5 percent of the sale price of the 88 market-price condos, for a potential total estimated at $537,240 to $1.12 million if all are built and sold. The money would be used to support affordable housing elsewhere in town.

      If the condos are not built, the town gains in percentage of affordable housing; if the condos are built, the town needs to add 13 more units just to stay even in its efforts to comply with state mandates.

      The "gift" which Selectman Michael Tichnor now admitted was misnamed as it serves an additional purpose of mitigation, would be significantly delayed by about three years, he said. However, much of this 'gift' is tied to later phases of the project.

      Originally the remaining portion of the 'gift', $2.8 million, was payable within three months after the first building permit. The new proposal is $500,000 payable within 60 days of issuance of first certificate of occupancy for the second phase of the retail/office component. Additionally, other funds originally due with the first building permit, such as $250,000 for the bike trail and $120,000 for the municipal parking area, would be deferred until a certificate of occupancy is issued for 50 percent of the square footage of the second phase of the retail/office component.

      The rest of the payment depends on sales of the residential units. The town would receive $40,000 within a month of the sale of each unit until the balance of the gift is paid, and there is to be a guaranteed payment of $250,000 within three years of the initial payment. No condos sold would mean none of these payments.

      Another proposed change is to extend the agreement by three years, to 2014.

      Allegations of Delay

      In the background are accusations from the developer that the town has delayed permitting the project.

      The Conservation Commission objected, in an Oct. 1 letter to the Wayland Town Crier, to public impressions that it was responsible for delays or has denied permission for the project.

      "In fact, the Conservation Commission issued an approval of the Town Center project in May 2009 with the issuance of an Order of Conditions under the Wetlands Protection Act and a permit under Wayland's Wetlands and Water Resources Bylaw, Chapter 194," the Commission said.

      "The applicant has subsequently appealed to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a review of the Order of Conditions. The applicant is now awaiting the DEP's decision regarding its appeal, a process that is not under the Commission's control."

      The letter went on to cite other delays which it said were created by Twenty Wayland, including technical errors, "piecemeal" submissions, inconsistencies and postponement of public hearings.

      Twenty Wayland applied for permits in June 2008 but did not submit a required floodplain study until January 2009; the ConCom approval for the on-site application came last May 29.

      "The Commission has shown as much flexibility as possible within its authority for administration of the Wetlands Protection Act and the town's bylaw (Chapter 194) for protection of wetland resources, including the Sudbury River, that are critical for a sustainable environment and for the protection of the town's drinking water supply," the letter said.

      The record shows that the develper's actions have resulted in some delays.

      At a recent selectmen's meeting, former Selectman Alan Reiss, who had voted for the project, came down against the developer's new demands. He added that allowing accusations of town delays to stand would open the town to a developer lawsuit. Twenty Wayland has not been shy in throwing legal weight around.

      One example of litigiousness came up during the State of the Town meeting. A resident asked whether the Historic District Commission would receive town-paid counsel to fight a suit by Twenty Wayland.

      Selectman Michael Tichnor replied that Town Counsel Mark Lanza had been assigned to represent the Commission and "no other counsel will be paid." The selectmen diasgree with the Commission's response to Twenty Wayland's application.

      The Commission hasn't met in public to discuss its response to the suit. One apparent difficulty is that Lanza issued an opinion on request from the selectmen that denies the Commission the authority it asserted and the suit disputes.

      COMMUNITY PRESERVATION FUND

      One source of revenue for some town improvements is the Community Preservation surtax adopted in 2001. It adds about 1.5 percent to residents' tax bills, and until now the town-raised funds have been matched 100 percent by the state. Because of declining state revenues, the percentage this year is more like 35 percent.

      The Community Preservation Act restricts the use of funds to affordable housing, open space and historic buildings and artifacts. Betsy Connolly of the Community Preservation Committee outlined for the State of the Town audience proposed changes in state law that would fix the state reimbursement rate at 75 percent and allow wider use of the fund. Wayland's fund has received $7.7 million over the years.

      PLANNING BOARD INITIATIVES

      Chairman Kevin Murphy announced a couple of zoning articles that voters will see on the fall Town Meeting warrant. One would create uniform regulations on food and beverages sold at gas stations; the other could help make the town eligible for outside funding for Green Initiatives.


      A review of the 2004 Master Plan is under way, he said, and a report by an appointed advisory committee should be issued in about a year.

      Asked about commercial and dense 40B development that is radically changing the character of Cochituate (have you seen the bank going up at the intersection of Routes 27 and 30?), Murphy said the Board is working on a protective Town Meeting overlay district warrant article. Voters rejected such a Planning Board article last April. Comments at Town Meeting indicated that many people didn't understand that it would apply only to commercial development.

      DPW DEBUT

      Public Works Board Chairman Eric Knapp talked up the new DPW which combines responsibility for roads, parks, water and the transfer station.

      Though making no great claims for immediate cost savings, Knapp said "we're ahead of budget now" and maintained the consolidation was worth doing if only to create better service to residents through such things as combined purchases, reduced overtime and vehicle maintenance. The employees (36 Full Time Equivalent) have more variety in their work, improving morale as well as efficiency, he said.

      --WVN Staff


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      ==================================================
      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive their own copy, they can send an email to
      waylandvoters@....
      and they will be signed up for the listserv. Or, they can sign themselves up by sending a blank email to:
      waylandvotersnetwork-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
      Click reply and send after receiving an e-mail confirming the subscription.

      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor==================================================
      To be sure you continue to receive WVN newsletters optimally and in your inbox (instead of bulk or junk folders) it may help to add to your address book or safe sender list:
      waylandvoters@.yahoo.com
      waylandvoters1@....
      ==================================================
      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive their own copy, they can send an email to
      waylandvoters@....
      and they will be signed up for the listserv. Or, they can sign themselves up by sending a blank email to:
      waylandvotersnetwork-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
      Click reply and send after receiving an e-mail confirming the subscription.

      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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