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Dec 17

Building Projects and January Special Town Meeting

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

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.


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