WVN #326: Tax rate remains uniform -- and high
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The Board of Selectmen again decided against a higher tax rate for Wayland businesses.
Also in this newsletter:
-- The School Committee presents a proposed budget that's down by more than 2 percent.
-- Controversy over what two selectmen were looking at on their PDAs during deliberations.
SELECTMEN STICK WITH UNIFORM TAX RATE -- AND IT'S HIGH
The Board of Assessors presented significant research and an option for shifting some of homeowners' tax burden to businesses. But the Board of Selectmen voted 5-0 to retain the same rate for everybody.
Thus the estimated rate for Fiscal 2010, which must be certified by the state, is $17.79 per $1,000 of assessed value, making it among the very highest in Massachusetts. That represents an 8.67 percent increase over the current rate of $16.37.
Town officials say they hope to avoid asking for a tax override next year. Voters should, however, be alert to a possible "tax neutral" debt exemption that in effect would keep the town at the same level of debt. Last month voters approved borrowing about $45 million for a new high school. In future years that borrowing will add several hundred dollars per year to most tax bills.
As in the past, the selectmen decided at their Dec. 7 meeting that there are too few commercial taxpayers to make a significant difference without risking considerable harm to the businesses.
The assessors' study showed that with the maximum allowable shift in tax burdens, a tax rate of $26.68 for businesses would add $1.3 million annually to the commercial total. A homeowner with an average tax bill of about $10,000, paying at the rate of $17.32, would save about $300.
On the other hand, the $1.3 million decrease for homeowners would mean an extra $1.3 million divided among only 120 commercial taxpayers. At the large end of the scale, for example, Twenty Wayland, developer of the Town Center project, now pays more than $400,000 annually in property taxes.
An example from the other end of the commercial scale: The Wayland House of Pizza would see a much smaller increase. But this establishment, and others near the center of town, will face an additional one-time charge for a new wastewater treatment plant (estimated at more than $75,000 for the pizza place).
As for other sources of tax relief, a fully built Town Center would produce an estimated $500,000 annually in additional tax revenue. That would reduce the average residential tax bill by about $100.
-- WVN Staff
PROPOSED SCHOOL BUDGET DOWN 2.33 PERCENT
Superintendent Gary Burton has presented his proposed budget to the School Committee. It is down 2.33 percent from last year. There is a 1.7 percent decline in school population.
The Finance Committee guideline for all departments was for a 4 percent cut to avoid another property tax override next spring. The school department was allowed to add back transportation and utility cost increases, however, and was also able to increase some fees which can be added to the available funds, making the actual proposed reduction from last year's spending 2.11%. The budget and supporting documents are posted online at http://www.wayland.k12.ma.us/district/district_info/departments/superintendent/reports.htm
The budget presented on Dec. 7 includes no salary increases for administrative and non-union personnel, and only step and lane (longevity and educational attainment) increases for teachers and other union personnel. New union contracts are currently being negotiated.
Class sizes are generally increasing, but remain within longstanding School Committee guidelines. Some clubs and coaches will be cut, but no sports. There will be one additional class section at Claypit Hill and Happy Hollow because of grade distributions, even though the overall population is dropping. Special Education will increase at Children's Way to avoid costly out-ofodistrict placements. The Middle School will drop another cluster, leaving two clusters at each grade level. The high school Athletic Director and the elementary math and science coordinator will become half-time.
There are no cuts to technology, which Burton now acknowledges can ultimately lead to lower operating costs. Unfortunately, because this is only the second year of a multi-year effort required to build the technology infrastructure, those reduced costs will not be in place next year. Instrumental music at the elementary schools, which Burton regards as a Wayland signature program, will not be reduced. There will be no reduction in the number of athletic teams. Burton believes that the schools next year will retain the key components that have made Wayland schools great.
One trend which is being accommodated is a movement in elective choices away from language and art and toward math and science. This has led to very small classes in, for example, Latin. There was significant debate over Burton's proposal that Latin be phased out at the Middle School. The committee will consider alternative cuts at future meetings.
-- Tom Sciacca
WHAT WERE THOSE PDA'S TELLING TWO SELECTMEN?
When former Selectman Linda Segal raised the possibility that Selectmen Joe Nolan and Michael Tichnor violated their board's policy on electronic devices, she was sitting across the table from them at a regular meeting of the board on Nov. 30.
They didn't reply then or later, but Town Administrator Fred Turkington followed up on Dec. 3 with a strongly worded email demanding an apology from Segal and asserting that the two were only reading their calendars on PDAs.
Segal had aired the accusation earlier in a Wayland Town Crier letter. The Board of Selectmen's policy, adopted last year, was designed to avoid accusations that selectmen might receive information from an outside source during deliberations, information that the public may be entitled to know under state Public Records law.
Nolan and Tichnor took out their PDAs during a special meeting on Oct. 20 to sign documents required to carry out changes in the Town Center project requested by the developer, Twenty Wayland. Video of the meeting may not provide a definitive answer but does raise significant questions. Judge for yourself by watching this excerpt on YouTube:
Tichnor and Nolan Look at their PDAs
During the meeting Town Counsel Mark Lanza advises the selectmen that they can sign that night or individually at their convenience on a later day. Selectman Tom Fay seems hesitant. Tichnor takes out his PDA and begins reading. About six seconds later Nolan picks up his PDA and begins reading.
There is a noticeable pause until Nolan begins speaking while still looking at his PDA. Tichnor shows his PDA briefly to Fay and appears to say something to him. Then Fay says he's comfortable with the signing arrangements.
Turkington asserts that the two couldn't have been reading text messages because they didn`t pick up their PDAs at the same time.
The video raises questions:
-- Could two text messages have been sent in rapid succession, or simply viewed at different times?
-- Is the way they hold and watch their PDAs, and the time spent staring at the screen, consistent with somebody checking a calendar?
-- If Tichnor and Nolan know they can sign later, why do they need a lengthy check of their calendars?
-- Why does Tichnor apparently show his PDA to Fay?
-- If they received text messages, who sent them, and for what purpose?
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor