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Town Manager

Nov 19

Warrant Article Review - Round 1

Posted on November 19, 2018 at 2:02 PM by Michael Herbert

Just a reminder that tonight (11/19) at 6:30 PM at the BOS Meeting Room, I will be joined with staff and board and committee members to discuss the warrant articles being put forward at the Special Town Meeting on 11/28. In addition to that, I will start posting about several of the warrant articles in advance of next Wednesday. Here is the first round:

Article 2 – Free Cash Appropriations

Free cash is the amount of money left over at the end of the year after the Town balances its books. It can be generated by a number of sources – we get a one-time influx of revenue over and above what we were expecting (like through a grant or redeemed tax liens), or perhaps we are unable to fill a budgeted position and so the money allocated for that position is not spent that year. Regardless of source, it is one-time revenue and should be treated as such.

Since 2013, Ashland has utilized a best practice whereby this one-time revenue is directed towards our long-term liabilities, stabilization funds, and one-time expenses.

This year, the following amounts are to be transferred from free cash to those appropriate accounts:

$275,000 – General Stabilization Fund

$434,170 – OPEB Trust Fund

$110,718 – Special Education Stabilization Fund

$902,346 – Capital and other One-Time Expenses

Article 4 - Property Tax Exemption

Each year, the Town of Ashland has offered a property tax exemption for qualifying seniors. Currently, Ashland uses what is known as the 41C1/2 Exemption, based on the statute for which it is named.

Each year, the Board of Assessors makes a recommendation on the amount of the exemption. Since adopting the exemption in 2006, Ashland has maintained an exemption percentage equal to around $500 per year. In Fiscal Year 2018, the Town raised that exemption percentage by about 30%, to an amount that equaled $660.

This year, I am pleased to say that the Assessors are again recommending the increased amount.

Article 13 – Purchase of Land, Rear Oregon Road

Most people know that in an effort to better control development, increase our recreational assets, and in general give us an opportunity to better plan for things in the future, we have acquired strategic pieces of property. We have done that because in order to have the ultimate control over a piece of property, we need to own it.

At this Town Meeting, we are proposing the purchase of a 7 acre piece of property off of Lincoln Street (which is a cul-de-sac off of Oregon Road) for $195,000. Similar to the Nicolo property that was purchased last fall, this piece of property is important in maintaining the integrity of the Town Forest. If it becomes developed, it changes the characteristic of the whole Town Forest.

 Oregon Road Property

Article 18 – Road & Land Acceptances

As subdivisions go through the planning process, oftentimes the contractor is required to build roads according to the standards established by the town, with the understanding that the town will then “accept” the road and take on the responsibility for maintaining it. Developers are also sometimes required to donate pieces of land within a subdivision to the town for open space purposes.

Typically, these actions happen after the subdivision has been built. Before Town Meeting, a layout hearing must be held before the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen to ensure that the construction is up to Town Standards and that the donated parcels meets all of the specifications required during the permitting process. Only then will they move forward to Town Meeting.

At this Town Meeting, the Town is proposing that we accept two roads: Tydeman Road as part of the Tydeman Road subdivision,  as well as Royal Colony Circle. The Town is also recommending acceptance of the open space parcels indicated as part of the Hillcrest Estates subdivision.

 



Nov 10

Agreement Reached on Rail Transit District

Posted on November 10, 2018 at 6:50 PM by Michael Herbert

New master plan including purchase is better for the community than current plan

Continue Reading...

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.

https://www.ashlandmass.com/DocumentCenter/View/4082/FY18-FY29-Debt-Exclusion-Chart

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 mherbert@ashlandmass.com