Letter: Selectmen in Support of the Public Safety Facility

by beth on May 5, 2017

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

At the annual town election on May 9th, Southborough has the opportunity to put the final touches on an initiative supported by nearly 91% of attendees at the March Special Town Meeting – to purchase the land at the St. Mark’s Golf Course and to construct a Public Safety Facility, with the remainder of the land subject to a conservation restriction in perpetuity. Voting yes on the ballot question allows the Town to exclude the debt from the tax levy limit. This is similar to what was done for construction of our schools, and will be the first debt exclusion for municipal (non school) purposes since 2006, when the Town voted the Chestnut Hill Farm Preservation Restriction.

The need for the project is unquestioned. The Town of Southborough has never built a Police Station. The Police Department is housed in a former elementary school building constructed in the 1920’s. The Fire Department is housed in a facility constructed by Fire Department personnel in the 1970’s. Neither facility meets the needs of public safety personnel functioning in the modern times. The most cost effective solution for the Town of Southborough is to build a new facility to house both departments, creating $2 million or more in cost savings over building independent facilities.

Our Public Safety Study Committee and St. Mark’s Golf Course Master Plan Committee held over 50 public meetings to document the needs of both departments, identify alternative sites, determine the best areas of the St. Mark’s site that are best for development, while identifying concepts to integrate the Public Safety Facility construction into the surroundings. Our Advisory Committee has reviewed the project economics and has determined that this is an affordable project for us to undertake at this time.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Town to control development that would otherwise have occurred on the Golf Course Property, while constructing a Public Safety Facility that has been studied for almost 15 years. By saying yes to this ballot question, the Town has a solution to its need for locating a Public Safety Facility, and has the opportunity to maintain control over this land.

Vote yes on May 9 – the polls open at 6:30 a.m.!

Brian Shea, Chair

Board of Selectmen

[Editor’s Note: Although the letter is written by Mr. Shea, he wrote it on behalf of the full Board of Selectmen at their unanimous agreement.]

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Al Hamilton May 5, 2017 at 12:46 PM

I regret that I believe the underlying premise of this letter is not correct. Voters are NOT being asked to approve the land purchase or building a Public Safety Complex by their vote at the ballot. The purchase of the land, the building project, and the required borrowing and taxes has been authorized subject only to a special act of the legislature. No further authorization is required.

Here is what you are voting on:

“Shall the Town of Southborough be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds to be issued in order to acquire land and construct a new public safety complex, and for the payment of costs incidental or related thereto?”

We are voting to exempt the taxes required to pay for the debt incurred outside of the limits of Prop 2.5.

If you vote YES, then the required taxes will be exempted from the Prop 2.5 Cap.

If you vote NO, then the taxes required to pay would have to come out of funds that would be subject to a Prop 2.5 cap. Presently, there is sufficient “Levy Capacity” to fund this debt and fund current operations. It would probably hasten the day when a Prop 2.5 override would be requested.

The BOS can proceed with this project without approval of this debt exclusion.

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2 SB Resident May 5, 2017 at 2:38 PM

I don’t understand why anyone would vote for this. To exclude our biggest ticket items from the prop 2.5 cap defeats the whole purpose of prop 2.5.

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3 YY May 6, 2017 at 6:28 PM

I find this to be some what contradictory…

“Our Advisory Committee has reviewed the project economics and has determined that this is an affordable project for us to undertake at this time.”

It is affordable but we need to exclude it from our levy limit? Is is affordable if we can tax more?

Unfortunately the letter as not make a good case for my vote. The purchase of St Mark Golf Course and building of public safety complex as already approved so what is this for? Is clearly related but how exactly? Why is it needed? What are the consequences or it not passing?

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4 Al Hamilton May 7, 2017 at 7:17 PM

YY

I regret that the letter is misleading. All that is required to approve debt and the corresponding taxes is a 2/3 vote of town meeting which was attained. The same is true for the land deal (except that certain aspects of this deal require special legislation at the state legislation).

A YES vote will put the taxes required to repay the debt outside the constraints of Prop 2.5. The reasonable argument for this is that it is a large, non operational expense that should not be counted against this limit.

A NO vote will put the taxes required to repay the debt within our Prop 2.5 Cap. This means that if the BOS decides to go forward, those monies would have to compete with operational expenses. At present we have the “Levy Capacity” (the difference between our expenses and the Prop 2.5 Cap) to fund both but it would impose fiscal discipline on our local government and would probably hasten the day when we would be asked to approve a Prop 2.5 override. (If I recall correctly, the last one was defeated.)

These 2 facts are well understood in Town Hall.

Regardless, the letter, which is purportedly on behalf of the BOS does not address the central issue the voters are being asked to propose but rather, misleads voters into thinking that they are approving a project that has already been approved. Not the BOS’s finest hour.

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5 louise barron May 7, 2017 at 12:57 PM

As I read article 1 it is based on passing the 2 1/2 exemption to go into the building phase. If it wins, then everything moves ahead, if it loses then it will likely have to go to a fact finder in the judicial system to be decided,

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6 louise barron May 7, 2017 at 8:47 PM

When the exorbitant taxes we already pay, rise to the moon, thank yourselves for the bad decision to build the municipal Taj Mahal building, and lose the golf course to neglect.

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7 D. McGee May 8, 2017 at 7:34 AM

Exorbitant? Our tax rate is about $2 below neighboring towns of Hopkinton, Ashland, Westborough, Northborough and Framingham. How is that exorbitant?

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8 SB Resident May 8, 2017 at 1:22 PM

Tax rate doesn’t really reflect whether or not taxes are exorbitant. Weston’s tax rate is about $4 less than ours and yet they are number one for average tax bill. All I know is since I bought my house, somehow my tax bill has outpaced 2.5% and inflation and I’m pretty sure my house isn’t some anomaly.

But really, why is it that we always seem to be voting under some ultimatum or without a clear understanding of the truth? Do you really think the BOS is just going to throw up their arms and cancel the new public safety complex if this question doesn’t pass? Lets do the fiscally prudent thing and force them to do it at least somewhat responsibly without just having a blank check.

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9 D. McGee May 8, 2017 at 2:02 PM

OK, so lets look at average tax bill instead. The data is a couple of years old (2014), but the comparison is still meaningful. Southborough’s average RE tax bill of $9,105 compares favorably with Hopkinton ($8,953) and Westborough ($8,264). It is WAY below other nearby affluent towns, such as Sudbury ($12,082), Wayland ($11,730), Weston ($18,762) and Wellesley ($13,971). Again, how are our taxes exorbitant?

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10 Frank Crowell May 8, 2017 at 7:15 AM

I completly agree with Louise on exorbitant taxes we currently pay. After watching the candidate’s night video, the problem will get worse due to lack of cooperation between the town and school system (not discussed during the meeting – cooperation between town committees was). We have a very expensive school configuration and too many classrooms. If the two groups worked together properly, we would have a better chance of fixing this and probably a better alternative to the safety building. I have never seen any cooperation between town and schools along these lines – this needs to change.

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11 Kathy Cook May 8, 2017 at 12:13 PM

I am simply reiterating and confirming what Mr. Hamilton has said in his two posts above. This project has been approved. The question on the ballot is only to determine where in the budget the debt payments for the project will lie – either within the levy cap or outside. The BOS are incorrect when they say otherwise. Voting no will not stop the project. Voting yes will give the town more flexibility in future years in the budgeting process so is the preferred vote.

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