Open discussion thread: Ask questions, share opinions

by beth on May 24, 2018

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It’s time for a new open thread. What’s on your mind this week, Southborough?

For those of you new to the blog, the open discussion thread is your place to ask questions, sound off on town issues, or share information with other readers. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Ask questions about programs in town or the town itself
  • Post a note about things that you’re selling or giving away, or things that you want
  • Share notices about upcoming events (Southborough or otherwise)
  • Register your thoughts on town issues or news stories
  • Point out interesting or helpful resources

You can add comments to the thread throughout the week. Check back often to see new comments. (If you read the blog via email or RSS, you might want to check the site from time to time for new comments.)

To view past open discussion threads, click here.

(Photo by SusanFitzgerald)

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Southern Breeze May 24, 2018 at 12:47 PM

Does anyone know when the town electric rates are going to kick in?

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2 Trixie May 25, 2018 at 7:55 AM

The new electric rates are included on my current National Grid bill under Supply Services – .1088 per kWh, much better than the basic service rate of .12673.

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3 Southern Breeze May 25, 2018 at 2:28 PM

Thanks for the reply Trixie. My rates have still not changed. I was with a third party vendor and that 18 month program expired at the end of February. They are still listed as my supplier, but the rates jumped from .0985 to 15.+. I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that the change was an opt out. Anyone that didn’t opt out was automatically switched over.

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4 beth May 25, 2018 at 4:29 PM

That didn’t apply to anyone who was contracted to a third party vendor – only those that were with the default National Grid Plan. Anyone with another vendor had to opt in.

If you wish to do that, you can find the information here.

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5 Southern Breeze May 27, 2018 at 12:02 PM

Ah. Thanks so much for the link and the response.

6 SD May 24, 2018 at 2:31 PM

Hello, This might come off as a silly question, some would even go further to say obvious questions but either way i will ask the question.
Why are Taxes in Southborough so high!? I have been scratching my head at this since i moved here. Its def not because we are using the money to pay for Kindergarten, (we pay for that), or pave our roads, (the state is doing that), or sewer (we all have septic systems). Maybe its because we have trash pickup? Nope, how about street cleaning? Nope, Free recycling? Nope that’s $200. Maybe its the amazing downtown we have that’s expensive to maintain, NOPE! don’t have that. So why I ask? The education in town is great no doubt but calm on, that cant be the only reason our taxes are high.

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7 beth May 24, 2018 at 3:24 PM

I don’t know what answer you are expecting. And I’m wondering if the question is meant to be rhetorical.

But in case you really are asking. . . I’m no expert on this stuff, but I know enough to share some of what has been raised in past comment debates and to point you to official documents for more details.

I’m guessing your question will touch off another debate on the concept of a split tax rate. Some commenters (especially Carl Guyer) have lobbied for it as a way of reducing residential burden. Others have argued that it would hurt the Town’s ability to attract businesses which add to the coffers without putting as much demand on Town resources as residents do.

We are a mostly residential community, and residences tend to add to the tax burden rather than relieving it. So that is likely part of the tax equation. And it’s why Town officials put an emphasis on trying to attract business.

A frequent complaint on the blog when people debate the Town’s economy has also been the amount of town land that is taken up by non-profits. (For instance, St. Mark’s and Fay School.)

From what I recall in past debates in blog comments, commenters who researched and compared rates in the past listed ours as lower than most surrounding towns. (Please, readers who have looked into this before – correct me if that recollection is wrong.) But because property values are high here, I’m guessing that a comparison of average tax bills is a different story.

As for whether or not the Town is spending money efficiently or wisely, all I can do is point you to information on what the money is used for. As your comment already suggested – a big chunk is for the schools.

The presentation on the budget from Annual Town Meeting: https://www.southboroughtown.com/sites/southboroughma/files/pages/article_7_-_fy19_budget_presentation.pdf

For more detail – the most recent approved budget with information from each department: https://www.southboroughtown.com/sites/southboroughma/files/pages/fy19_budget_book_final_031518.pdf

For more background – The Annual Town Report includes reports from each Town Dept/Committee on what they’ve been doing: https://www.southboroughtown.com/sites/southboroughma/files/uploads/2017_ann_rpt_final_web_0302018_optimized.pdf

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8 Al Hamilton May 25, 2018 at 8:35 AM

The short answer is that there is very little pressure to operate efficiently or change. There will not be any until Town Meeting applies it in the form of no votes on the budget.

There is also very little incentive to operate efficiently or change. Change implies taking risks which means possible failure. Failure is often treated harshly and success is not particularly rewarded in the public sector. Look, for example, at the Woodward light debacle. The DPW tried to save the public money by doing the job in house and failed. They were excoriated for it. If they had succeeded their efforts would have gone unnoticed. Caution and resistance to change is deeply ingrained in the culture of our local Goverment.

The good news is that the town has been carrying a high debt burden from the school constructions of the early part of the Century. That burden is coming off your taxes. The bad news is that the prevailing attitude in Town Hall and the Schools is that, having gotten you used to paying high taxes they will try to not return the taxes used to fund debt to you but keep them for themselves.

2/3 of your tax dollars go to funding our schools. You might reasonably ask if the k-8 system housed over 1600 students in 3 schools (plus 2 or 3 “portables”) why we need 4 schools now for a population of less that 1300 (which will continue to decline for the foreseeable future). You might ask this but no one will because there is no pressure to do so.

So, in the words of Pogo (or Walt Kelly) “We have met the enemy and they are us” real change will only happen when people vote for it.

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9 New Resident May 25, 2018 at 9:10 AM

In the very short period we have lived in Southborough I’ve heard comments about the school budget more than a few times. It’s clearly a large percentage of the overall budget but I have yet to see specifics in terms of where people disagree with the budget itself (admittedly I have not sought it out). I have seen the videos of Town Meeting and School Committee meetings that discussed the budget and personally did not see any clear sign of excessive spending… but I have a very limited knowledge of the history. I do agree with the comments on risk and change… can be hard to combat in the absence of initial public backing.

I am all for responsible budgets and finding ways to keep standards high and taxes low… but it’s important to remember that something is always going to be the largest part of the towns budget. It’s doesn’t inherently make it bad or wasteful. I say this as a recent Southborough home buyer who has seen a sharp increase in their monthly mortgage and taxes from their previous town… we paid what we did for a reason.

“The good news is that the town has been carrying a high debt burden from the school constructions of the early part of the Century. That burden is coming off your taxes. The bad news is that the prevailing attitude in Town Hall and the Schools is that, having gotten you used to paying high taxes they will try to not return the taxes used to fund debt to you but keep them for themselves.”

I would expect that if there were an ask to keep current funding levels it would come with explanation… There is also an implication that the school are enriching themselves somehow on taxpayer dollars… is there evidence of that? Would it not show in the budget? Or does ‘themselves’ include the kids who attend the schools?

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10 Al Hamilton May 25, 2018 at 2:55 PM

New Resident

I am not complaining about the roughly 2/3 of our tax dollars being spent on schools, neither of us would want to live in a place that spent more on police and fire than schools. But we should face the fact that in the past 12 -15 years, K-8 enrollment has fallen by about 20% while the K-8 Budget has steadily increased. The implication is that our unit costs have been rising much faster.

As for the prevailing attitude about converting debt roll off to other actions (including new debt), I have sat through a number of meetings and can assure you that there is a town hall contingent that thinks this way. (I would too if I worked at town hall).

It is hard to find inefficiency in budgets the real innovators that could make a difference are in the Classroom, Police Station, Fire House and Town Hall. But that would require change in the way we do business and change is hard. Why change when there is no incentive to do so? Go to Town Hall some day, we have the best 1950’s silo organizational structure money can buy.

I was responding to a question about why our taxes are high. This is my perspective from nearly 20 years of close observation of town operations. Until, Town Meeting says no nothing will change and there is very little indication that Town Meeting will say no.

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11 beth May 25, 2018 at 4:36 PM

Al,
I think what New Resident was assuming you meant was that school debt coming off the books was being replaced/matched by more school spending.

New Resident,
I believe what Al was actually referring to was additional spending and borrowing by the Town for other projects and expenses. In the past, he criticized that the budget for the new Public Safety Building was too big and that selectmen should have pushed harder to reign in the costs.

12 New Resident May 25, 2018 at 8:37 PM

Thank you both for your thoughtful answers. The fact that so many are engaged civically is what endeared us to this community.

13 Frank Crowell May 25, 2018 at 1:30 PM

Beth and Al have given you a very good download in their posts. I would only emphasize a few points.

– Schools are a large part of the tax burden. When there is a $2000 per student difference between neighboring Hopkinton and Southborough, there must be a reason. It may have a very reasonable answer (more special needs kids, a high number of education non profit kids when compared to other towns), but we should have an answer.

– TM 95% of the time will vote yes for large ticket items. If I am off it’s probably higher. The defeated spending requests will not die, they just come back around again.

– The town does not get reimbursed for services provided to Fay and St Mark’s. The taxpayers of SB are subsidizing the tuition those students. It is as simple as that.

Stay positive though. When your kids are done, it will be relatively easy to sell your house because we have great schools – and the circle of life continues.

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14 New Resident May 25, 2018 at 8:40 PM

“Schools are a large part of the tax burden. When there is a $2000 per student difference between neighboring Hopkinton and Southborough, there must be a reason. It may have a very reasonable answer (more special needs kids, a high number of education non profit kids when compared to other towns), but we should have an answer.”

That’s exactly what I am after. Budgets aren’t hidden… neither are the discussions as far as I can see…

I see far more effort placed in challenging the resulting number than I do in understanding the breakdown. As a parent I did look at the breakdown and am satisfied with what I am paying for… but so many other appear to not be. That’s the understanding I would like to come to.

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15 Frank Crowell May 29, 2018 at 10:55 AM

“As a parent I did look at the breakdown and am satisfied with what I am paying for…”

Am I to understand that you compared neighboring towns’ school expense per child with SB’s expense and are satisfied? If so, could you share that analysis?

This question of comparison has come up many times without any satisfactory answer from the school committees or the superintendent’s staff. I am fairly sure the answer is known (speculation on my part) – just not shared.

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16 Ricky May 25, 2018 at 8:51 PM

I am also fairly new to Southborough. All I really want is trash pickup. I would imagine the transfer station land near rt 9 would be valuable to a developer but would love to hear any history about it.

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17 MarthaB May 24, 2018 at 9:16 PM

Getting a jump ahead, can anyone recommend a reliable plow company for this winter? Someone who is local would be preferred. Thanks much in advance.

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18 C. Nicholas Ellis May 25, 2018 at 8:57 AM

J&J & Son Lawncare, just over the line in Marlborough. Contact: (508) 480-8838

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19 MarthaB May 25, 2018 at 9:16 AM

Thanks!

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20 Susan Porada May 24, 2018 at 10:13 PM

Any one know why Mac’s Wraps is no longer on Main street doing business. I know they are participating in the Food Truck Festival but don’t know why they disappeared from thir Main Street location.

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21 beth May 25, 2018 at 7:30 AM

He ended up not participating in the Truck Festival. Rotary informed me that he threw in the towel and they had to replace his truck.

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22 Kim May 27, 2018 at 2:31 PM

I got the impression from chatting with him last year at his spot by the florist that he didn’t have enough business and would need to seek out a higher-visibility spot in order to continue the business.

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23 Kim May 27, 2018 at 2:34 PM

I’ve lost track of what’s happening with the Fayville playground. Does anyone know why no work seems to be going on there?

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24 beth May 29, 2018 at 7:49 AM

My most recent update was a couple of weeks ago: http://www.mysouthborough.com/2018/05/15/delayed-town-projects-updates-on-main-street-and-fayville-playground/

It explained that paving needs to be done, and looks like we won’t see it open before sometime this summer. Following that – at Special Town Meeting, Rec Commission Co-Chair Kristen Lavault stated that due to the weather, the paving contract was “lost” – out of control of DPW. I took that to mean the project was behind because of weather, and the paving couldn’t be done within the original bid contract time frame.

Lavault’s statement was responding to a brief presentation by Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf where she lamented that too many Rec projects were relying on Public Works to save money – causing issues with delays and unforeseen costs. Fayville was one of them, where DPW workers are apparently responsible for the work there. The severe March storms were obviously a setback for DPW projects.

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25 Carl Guyer May 29, 2018 at 9:53 AM

Since I got mentioned in the discussion about tax rates, I would like to comment on the statement Beth made about residents being afraid implementation of a split tax rate would drive away commercial and industrial property owners therefore raising tax rates.

The short answer is that 78% of all the commercial and industrial property in the State of Massachusetts is taxed using split tax rates. Communities with single tax rates pay on average higher residential tax rates than those with split tax rates. It is a myth that split tax rates drive away commercial and industrial property, these property owners have much greater concerns than the local tax rate.

Because Southborough persists with a single tax rate, our residential tax payers pay a tax rate that is greater than than paid on 79% of the residential property in the state while our commercial and industrial property owners pay a rate that is lower then that paid on 75% of the commercial and industrial property in the state.

The bottom line is the average residential annual property tax bill is between $1,000 and $2,000 higher because we refuse to implement a tax policy similar to other communities in the state. In total the industrial and commercial property owners reap a $3.5 to $7.0 million dollar tax benefit their peers do not have.

If you are interested in validating or disputing these claims, Google “Mass DOR Data Bank” for all the gory detail on real estate tax collections in the State of Massachusetts.

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26 SD June 1, 2018 at 11:25 AM

Thank you all for this great dialog on Taxes. @ Beth that was a question to the town residents.

So its clear to me that a big chunk of our taxes is going to schools. Based on Carl’s message, we are spending 1-2k more than the average. If we are going to continue with the single tax rate model, can we then push to get “more bang for our buck”? Are there items like trash pickup, street cleaning, free kindergarten etc that we can ask the town to consider funding based on our current tax rate?
If majority in town are home owners and not business owners, i would think it would be in their best interest to vote in a split tax rate given the potential savings. This sounds like the obvious thing to do. I’m i missing something as to why this has not been successful?

Thank you all!

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27 SB Resident June 1, 2018 at 1:23 PM

Business tend to pay more in taxes even at the same rate (I would think)… raising their rates would presumably make it harder to get business here… which would reduce the overall tax intake. It sounds like there is an active effort to entice businesses to come to SB. This would make that harder I would think.

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28 SD June 4, 2018 at 4:56 PM

I’m not in favor of increasing business tax rates, well, i don’t know much about bossiness taxes. My point is we remove the single tax rate and have a split one, where residents pay less like everyone else in the comparable towns and keep the buss. tax rate at whatever it is today. I think we are forced, as residents to be in a high tax bracket because we are tied to a single tax rate. From the last meeting about this matter, businesses coming to town have a low tax rate. That’s fine, just don’t increase our because of that.

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29 beth June 5, 2018 at 8:23 AM

I don’t know how you lower the tax rate for the majority of taxpayers in town and keep the rate level for the others.

In October, the Town’s Board of Assessors again recommended a single rate. They asserted that lowering the residential rate by 1.2% would have required increasing the commercial rate by 5%. They were concerned about the impact on attracting and keeping businesses. (You can see their presentation here, starting on page 8 of the packet.)

I’m not saying that the rate should be either single or split. Just that I don’t think you can lower one without offsetting it by increasing the other.

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30 betsy mccarthy June 5, 2018 at 2:57 PM

on saturday, june 18th we are having a salesman’s sample sale at 18 parkerville road, southborough, ma between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. the merchandise for sale is all first quality items for the home to include rugs, blankets, towels, comforters and many more one of a kind items. please feel free to stop by!

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31 Kim June 6, 2018 at 9:20 PM

Hello Friends,
We have been having a terrible time with our private hauler for trash, Republic Services. Rather than taking our trash to the transfer station, who are you all using for trash/recycling?

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32 Jessica Devine June 7, 2018 at 9:57 AM

I just saw a big discussion about this on a Facebook page called “Sobo Parents Share & Care.” People overwhelmingly recommended Mr. Trashman, Orifice, and E.L. Harvey, though Harvey only picks up recyclables every other week. People were very unhappy with Republic and filing complaints with the BBB!

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33 John Kendall June 7, 2018 at 8:58 PM

Holliston uses Republic for curbside trash pickup. I read today that complaints are piling up.

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34 Southviller June 7, 2018 at 9:58 AM

We use Tidy Town (through Harvey) and have had nothing but good things. They will take a few extra items as well if we ever have to place something next to the dumpster. It may depend in where in town you are however…

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35 betsy mccarthy June 7, 2018 at 8:57 AM

on saturday, june 16th, 2018 we will be having a yard sale at 18 parkerville road. all the merchandise is first quality manufacturer samples for the home. there are rugs galore, towels, doormats and many more one of a kind items.

come on down!

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36 Kelly Roney June 7, 2018 at 3:38 PM

Beth, is there any way to add a more button to the Recent Comments widget? Sometimes I’d like to be able to scroll a little further back. I know I could ask for email notifications, but that requires I comment on every thread I want to follow, and besides I already get waaay too much email. Thanks!

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37 beth June 7, 2018 at 3:54 PM

Nope. Sorry, I’m not that adept at editing the website layout. So that’s not an option.

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38 Kathryn K June 10, 2018 at 5:07 PM

Does anyone know if it is possible for a Southborough resident to get a beach pass to Lake Chauncy Beach in Northboro? I thought I had seen this promoted in past years, but can’t find any references on the town websites. Thanks!

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39 beth June 11, 2018 at 7:59 AM

Southborough Recreation does sell the passes. From their website:

Lake Chauncy beach passes are available in our office for $90/family.
Note: Beach will open on 6/16, not 6/2.
Call our office (508)229-4452) to reserve. Cash or check only.

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