Blog module icon

Town Manager

Sign up for weekly email newsletter updates from Town Manager, Michael Herbert by clicking this link.

Dec 17

Building Projects and January Special Town Meeting

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 12:20 PM by Ashley Place

12/17 
Michael Herbert 

In January, Ashland voters will head participate in both a Special Town Meeting and a Special Election to vote on two transformative projects: the Public Safety Building and the Mindess School. For many residents in Ashland, the need for both buildings is clearly evident. I also believe that Ashland both understands and wants to invest in itself to make it a better community for everyone, but especially for its kids, seniors, and first responders. That being said, taxpayers will bear a cost for both projects, and voters will need to decide what they can afford when they go to the polls in January. 

The consequences of the pandemic have been as bad as any as we've seen in the country. The health impacts have been devastating, and the resulting financial impacts have reverberated throughout the economy. Combined with a form a government that is built on direct democracy, one would wonder why would we even consider moving forward with something this consequential right now. But moving forward now is the prudent financial decision for many reasons.  

Ironically, the negative economic impacts lead to a public bidding and construction environment very favorable for towns like Ashland. The combination of exceedingly low-interest rates with the lack of public construction work in other communities is saving Ashland millions of dollars on constructing a public safety facility, which translates into direct  cost savings for taxpayers. For additional taxpayer relief,  we are redirecting funds to help pay for the public safety building in order to reduce the increase in taxes necessary to fund the project. This strategy itself will result in the tax burden for the average taxpayer going down from $241 to $159/annually. 

Building a public safety building will also free up two key downtown parcels for redevelopment. Who hasn't thought the fire station would be a great place for a brewery or restaurant? The adaptive reuse of the fire station would also result in further economic benefits for the town. And Ashland can be even more creative with the police station parcel, or simply convert it into more downtown parking for existing businesses.

For the Mindess School, similar strategies are being utilized. The impact for the Mindess School will gradually increase from $17 in 2021 to $441 in FY2025, so as not to dramatically impact taxpayers all at once. Also, as part of the MSBA process, we are in line to receive over $27 million dollars in state reimbursement from that established program. The costs will only go higher the longer we wait. Even pushing this vote out one more year could see costs escalate by $2 to $4 million for such a project. 

Both projects are coming at a time when debt from previous projects is falling off (starting in FY25). Taken altogether, both projects combined with the subsequent drop off in existing debt, will result in a net tax increase of $360. Again that is for two brand new buildings. 

Of course, the numbers only tell part of the story. There is a human element here as well. Again, the condition of the buildings speak for themselves. Please ensure that you vote later in January.
Dec 17

December 2020 Special Town Meeting Wrap Up

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 12:15 PM by Ashley Place

12/10

Ashland voters met on Wednesday, December 9, 2020, at 6 pm for Special Town Meeting at Ashland High School located on 65 East Union Street. We want to thank the 87 voters who came out to vote. Special Town Meeting primarily contained articles deferred from the Annual Town Meeting held this past June. Town meetings are essential to continue municipal operations. Less than 100 Ashland voters attended Special Town Meeting and passed all the presented warrant articles. 

Articles 1 and 2 appropriated municipal spending. Article 1 allowed for the free cash transfer, and Article 2 adjusted the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Article 3, discussed the property tax exemption amount of 11.25%, which equates to approximately $800 for eligible seniors. Articles 4 and 5 discussed the adoption of provisions of the Brave Act, which provides relief in real estate tax exemption and tax work-off programs for surviving parents or guardians of certain soldiers, sailors, members of the National Guard, and Veterans.

Articles 7, 8, and 14 were withdrawn. Articles 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 pertained to special projects in town. Article 9 will allow the Town to complete the sale of 433 Chestnut, which will allow the Town to preserve this historic home in the Warren District that previously served as Henry Warren’s workshop. Article 10 included a friendly easement taking in cooperation with the Independence Lane Home Owners Association and developer, E. A Fish, to build a booster pump which will help increase the water pressure in the neighborhood.

Article 11 proposed by the Stormwater Committee, allows for a lien on unpaid Stormwater fees. Article 12 proposed allocating, $120,000 of CPC to complete the first section of the Ashland Upper Charles Trail, and which was part of the new plan for the Rail Transit District. This will be half mile Trolley Brook section will pass through the Rail Transit District. Town meeting also voted to support Article 13, which requested CPC funds to complete additional improvements for the Town Forest.

Prior to passing Article 6 which requested approval to take 12-16 Union Street by eminent domain for the new public safety building, Michael Herbert, Town Manager, presented the timeline of events that led to the need to request the authority to take the parcel of land that was gifted to the Town in 2018. The landowner’s attorney was present and provided the landowner’s perspective on the status of the gift and the reasons it has not be deeded over to the Town. The Town, prior to exercising its authority to take the parcel will make an attempt to have an amicable transfer of the deed in line with the agreed-upon terms of the gift.

The COVID-19 Pandemic created many obstacles for town meeting setup. Massachusetts law requires public town meetings to continue operations. Despite Governor Baker’s amendments to open meeting law, allowing municipal governments to host weekly department and committee meetings through virtual platforms, like Zoom and Google Meetings, open town meeting must be discussed and held in-person, in an open forum.

The Town of Ashland team created a safe environment with air purifiers and socially distanced seating for voters. Voters were required to wear masks and encouraged to maintain 6 feet separation from others and to stay home and stream the footage from the local cable station if he/she/they felt unwell. The Town Moderator stood at a podium 10 feet from others. All participants, including the Town Manager, wore masks unless speaking. Masks were removed to speak into the microphone, which volunteers then wiped down after each use. Sergeant Ed Burman, the COVID-19 Task lead assisted with the preparations for this meeting and continue to discuss precautions in anticipation of the January meeting.
In January, a second Special Town Meeting and Special Town Election will be held to ask for the funding to complete and construct the two proposed building projects: The Public Safety Building and the Mindess School Building. These projects will require a town meeting vote and a ballot vote. Absentee voting will be available. Please, stay tuned for more information. 
Article Votes

1. Passed
2. Passed
3. Passed
4. Passed
5. Passed
6. Passed
7. Withdrawn
8. Withdrawn
9. Passed
10. Passed
11. Passed
12. Passed
13. Passed
14. Withdraw


Dec 09

Special Town Meeting

Posted on December 9, 2020 at 10:03 AM by Ashley Place

Addressing discussions on social media regarding Special Town Meeting's Warrant Article 6

Continue Reading...