Friday, April 9, 1999
FinCom does not recommend Wang-Coombs or serial bonding
The finance committee finally decided to take action against the growing financial burden being assumed by the town. During a long introspective four-hour meeting on April 5, they voted not to recommend purchase of the Wang-Coombs land or authorization of a $5 million serial bond for municipal land acquisition.
"Why have a finance committee," said defiant member Tony Allison, "if we don't provide fiscal leadership?" On a vote of 6—0, with chair Charles Parker abstaining, the committee decided against recommendation that "the town authorize the board of selectmen to acquire by purchase, gift, or eminent domain for conservation purposes and/or for agricultural use to be managed by ConsCom, the land commonly known as Wang-Coombs land." Prior to the vote, selectman John Ballantine appeared before the committee to ensure that FinCom was aware of the costs involved in the Wang-Coombs acquisition. The outcome was apparently not as Ballantine intended.
The net cost to the town for the Wang-Coombs land is $1.85 million. This comes after the purchase price of $2.7 million for the 41-acre property is reduced by a $350,000 agricultural preservation grant and $500,000 in limited development. "The town is buying ten lots at $220,000 per lot," explained Ballantine. "The closing is before June 30." FinCom members calculated that the 20-year bond service amounts to an estimated tax impact of $125 annually for a house assessed at $400,000.
Members asked, "What are the benefits of the Wang-Coombs land?" Ballantine extolled the agricultural value and use for passive recreation. "What's passive recreation?" asked Allison. "Walking," replied Ballantine. For a committee struggling to balance the budget, this was a walk they couldn't recommend.
Split on municipal land proposal
Members cast a similar jaundiced eye at the request for $5 million (formerly $10 million) serial bonding authorization for municipal land acquisition which would avoid the obligatory two-thirds majority at a Town Meeting and ballot vote. A majority Town Meeting vote would be necessary for a large acquisition. This proposal would also authorize officials to spend upwards to $300,000 for surveys, appraisals, and deposits on land without additional town approval. Member Simon Platt had misgivings about allowing major funding without a ballot, but other members were less decided. The resulting tie vote of 3—3, with Nina Ostrom abstaining, while not as conclusive as the Wang-Coombs decision, was nonetheless not a recommendation.
Allison summed up the mixed feelings of the committee by saying, "Each item individually is great, but collectively it's too much!" Member Linda Taylor Zinke observed that annual debt service is now about $2 million with total revenues at $14 million. "Compared to the 10 percent guideline, we're 14.3 percent. What can the town really afford?" Parker countered, "The alternative is development, which costs more." Member Tom Bilotta concluded that, "FinCom is an advisory board. We don't determine what goes on the ballot. We only recommend or not recommend."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito