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Town Manager

Sep 30

The Cost to Taxpayers for a Public Safety Building

Posted on September 30, 2018 at 7:42 PM by Michael Herbert

As you know, a critical project for Ashland is a new public safety building. Last year I thought that Ashland taxpayers were going to be responsible for paying the full price-tag of a new joint public safety building. At $30 million, that would have paid for the land acquisition for the building, design and engineering, and construction costs. As important as the project is for Ashland, it would also have translated to an additional $300 tax increase each year for the average Ashland taxpayer.

In the course of the last year, the situation has changed dramatically. We have been able to negotiate the donation, not purchase, of identified land, and Senator Spilka has been able to secure the construction costs through a statewide bond bill. All that is left to fund by Ashland taxpayers is the design and engineering, or $3.5 million. Almost a tenth of what was originally proposed.

You will hear me say that translates to a cost to the average taxpayer of only $30 a year. Quite an achievement when looking at $300 year. But it is still a tax increase. One resident recently asked how that factors into some of the recent debt exclusions we have passed when looking at the impact to Ashland taxpayers.

Ashland has passed several tax increases (called debt exclusions) for specific projects in the last fifteen years, and earlier this year we passed two more: $1 million for the Mindess School Feasibility Study, and $3.5 million for the Valentine property. Because we will get reimbursed for half of the Mindess School study, and because we offset some of the costs of the Valentine property with CPA funds, the amount we will need to borrow are $500k and $2.7 million respectively.

Here is a chart that shows what all of our debt exclusions cost the town each year, when they are paid off, and also what the tax impact is on the average valued home in Ashland.

Aslo, utilizing some basic assumptions, I have added the Valentine, Mindess, and Public Safety engineering debt exclusions. As you can see, once all of the projects are on the tax bills the average taxpayer will be paying $330 annually. These three additional projects will at most cost the average taxpayer $39 year.

More importantly I want to bring your attention to four years later in FY24. That is when we will have paid off the High School project. This will result in a $1.1 million decrease in debt service, and the cost to the average taxpayer for debt exclusions on the books will then only be $130. It gets even better the following year, when the Community Center and Town Hall are paid off. It will then get down to $96 year. In five years, taxpayers will be paying almost $200 less for debt exclusions than they are currently, including the recently passed Valentine Estate, Mindess Study, and even Public Safety Engineering projects.

As has been discussed, a new school is very much on the horizon as well. But looking at the steep drop off in excluded debt, hopefully we can manage this without an increase in tax bills.

Another part of the analysis that is not demonstrated here is what we save by going to a new public safety building. Between the saving in lease payments for the Police Administrative building and the savings in utilities by combing 4 buildings into 1, we will save $1.2 million over 20 years (about $60k year). This does not include savings we would realize by being able to do training “in house” as opposed to paying another community, or the revenue we could realize by hosting trainings.

Finally, this doesn’t take into account what it means to not build a new joint public safety building. The impact to the safety of our Police and Fire personnel, as well as the safety to the community in general cannot be measured. We’ve done our best to limit as much of the cost to Ashland taxpayers as possible. And hopefully, our previous planning efforts will make these investments more affordable and therefore more palatable to home and business owners in Ashland.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts or questions on our Facebook pages or comment on the blog itself. You can also let me know directly at

Sep 16

A New Vision for the Rail Transit District

Posted on September 16, 2018 at 7:42 PM by Michael Herbert

When the Rail Transit District was rezoned back in the year 2000, Ashland was in a dramatically different place in its evolution. Unfortunately, as Ashland changed, the zoning for this 180 acre parcel didn't.  Recent developments have included the 398-unit Cirrus Apartment development and the Planning Board is poised to issue a permit for a 6MW solar panel on the cap in the near future. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the property is developed according to the zoning put in place almost twenty years ago. The current zoning allows for almost 600 more units of housing to be built, very little open space, and practically no commercial development. 

Concurrently, over the last few years, we have identified a number of needs in Ashland. An expanded commercial tax base, recreational amenities and open space, and housing that is affordable for our seniors are just a few. To put it simply, the current plans and zoning for the Rail Transit District do not address those needs. However, the only real way to gain control over property is to acquire it. Given this simple fact, I have proposed to the Board of Selectmen and they have decided to exercise their authority to take the property through eminent domain for the purposes of economic development, recreational, and senior affordable housing purposes. Specifically it breaks down as follows:

Economic Development - The economic development potential cannot be understated. With 400 apartments across the street, the train station nearby, and access off of Rt.135, there are multiple acres that can be used to help grow our commercial tax base.

Senior Housing - This will also give us the opportunity to provide senior housing that is truly affordable for seniors that have spent their lives making Ashland the successful town it is today, but find themselves struggling to stay in their homes due to rising property values and taxes. As opposed to a allowed sprawling expensive townhome development that covers 36 acres, we would be looking at a much smaller footprint that will keep a significant buffer between the development and the surrounding neighborhood. 

Recreation - the acquisition of the property will give us an opportunity to make a strong attempt at bringing in a recreational facility (think YMCA or the Boys & Girls Club) into Ashland. Across the street from the Middle School, and the aforementioned senior housing, it would be difficult to find a better location for such a facility.  

A solar project through a philantrhopic entity such as Citizens Solar, combined with walking trails and a section of the Upper Charles Trail through the restored wetland areas and open space serve as perfect closure to the site's Nyanza past.  And with a potential new school on the horizon, the property will give us another option when we decide to take the next step of building one.

Please note that we do not take eminent domain lightly. We have recognized the potential of this site over the last year, and have been trying to work with the owner to acquire the property through more traditional means, with deals being signed but then backed out of. Frustrated with the property owner's unwillingness to honor agreements and commitments, plus his inability to get things accomplished, has led us to take this bold step of taking the property through eminent domain. 

How does one finance such an acquistion? A purchase price is still being determined, but as stated above the property owner has already agreed to a number of purchase proposals of varying degrees, only to not honor them. But there are a number of tools that we can utilize. First, a PILOT agreement with Citizens Solar will allow us to put $1.5 million towards the acquistion. Second, Senate President Spilka has secured funds through the Economic Development Bond Bill for the purchase. Finally, if we dispose of the property we can use any of the proceeds to pay for the acquistion. I am confident that we can do this without an override.

The Rail Transit District is the largest piece of developable property remaining in Ashland and is probably the most critical acquisition we can make in the future. It may seem audacious, but we owe it to ourseves to get this right. I expect this plan to generate significant discussion in town. The process of taking the property will begin at the Fall Town Meeting on November 28th, where it will require a Town Meeting vote. More information will be forthcoming as it becomes available. 
Aug 28

Focus on Downtown Ashland

Posted on August 28, 2018 at 4:55 PM by Michael Herbert

The importance of downtown Ashland and the events and activities supporting it. 

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