Friday, April 16, 1999
Growing is Painful
Three longtime town volunteers made an extraordinary sacrifice of time and effort to answer a question which has nagged officials for years, "Does the growth from new construction cost the town more than it receives in taxes?" The fruit of their labor, a 75-page report aptly entitled "Growing Pains," makes some interesting observations, raises some thought-provoking questions and lays the groundwork for future town debate.
Authors John Ballantine, Nancy Pierce and Beth Hambleton, having been members of the finance committee and served the town in other capacities, had been repeatedly involved in the dollars-and-cents debate over growth versus conservation. Their statistical analysis of data from 117 new homes and 298 resales over the last five years led them to the conclusion that "growth beyond a certain point will cost more than the additional tax revenue that the town collects from each new house."
How much that growth will impact the tax rate depends largely on how many households are added and when two particularly hefty expenses might be incurred. If the fire department were to change from being "on-call" to full-time, the town would incur an additional $830,000 in capital costs and $530,000 additional in annual operating expenses, according to the report. Also, if and when a new school is needed, capital costs could range from $9 million to $17 million with $400,000 to $800,000 additional in annual operating expenses.
While a preliminary forecast indicated that the student population could level off at 800 students in 2005, this depends on assumptions that "may or may not hold true." The key to whether the town can postpone or avoid the need for a new school depends largely on whether the town can control the pace of growth. If the town can slow the pace, the need for a new school could be delayed, postponing bonding until already approved projects are paid off and more taxpayers are in place to share the load. Then there is some speculation that a school for only a few grades would be necessary, which would have a less negative impact than a full K-8 school and there is even a glimmer of hope that, if the pace of growth can be slowed sufficiently, the need for a new school might be avoided. To determine the impact on educational services, the authors point out that the town cannot only consider how many households are in town, but when they move in, the ages of the children and how long the adults remain in the home. An interesting fact that emerged from the study was that over the last five years, newly constructed homes contributed the same number of school children as the homes which were resold.
Based on their analysis, the authors recommend that the town begin planning now in order to avoid the need for a new school. They should explore all possible means to control development, such as acquiring land, encouraging conservation restrictions and rewarding landowners to place temporary restrictions on their property. Perhaps equally important, the town should investigate ways to provide incentives for residents without school children so they will stay longer in their homes. The study cites the need for better demographic analysis of the school population, based on computerized data and not dusty census records, to render more accurate projections for future planning. Lastly, seeing the huge potential tax impact of a new school, the town should look for creative ways which might attend to the needs of a growing student population and avoid costly construction.
In closing, a heartfelt thanks is due to the three extremely diligent volunteers who spent countless hours compiling and analyzing statistics to shed some light on a complex subject. For those who would like to read the detailed report, a limited number of copies are available at the Gleason Library.
For some, it's the budding of magnolias or forsythia. For others, it may be the return of feathered friends. For me, however, nature's fickle nature makes it too unreliable. Baseball is my personal harbinger of spring.
Unlike other sports, which one can come to love late in life, true baseball fans are bred young. The game's quirky personality and painfully slow pace make it difficult to fall in love with as an adult. Baseball mania springs from emotional connections with early childhood memories, a parent who introduced and helped nurture the fever, or a serious case of hero worship. For me it was all three learning to catch and hit in the undeveloped meadow behind our Queens home, games at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn with my Dad, autographs from childhood heroes such as Jackie Robinson and PeeWee Reese, and sharing the pain of countless Dodger fans as "dem Bums" met their annual World Series defeats at the hands of the hated Yankees.
I've given up trying to explain the beauty of a game so retarded by foul balls, time-outs, pick-off throws, pitching changes and the like. Literary notables such as George Will, Bart Giamatti and Doris Kearns Goodwin have made the case far better than I ever could. Even so, no rational explanation is likely to convince a non-believer. Joy of the "great American pastime" requires strong emotional ties.
Goodwin's memoir, Wait 'till Next Year, is actually my story. She just happened to write it before I could get around to it. Baseball in the fifties was still a pure sport, not a business. Stars were loyal to their teams, and ballparks were not political issues. Baseball provided the glue that united and the grease that lubricated community social life. As spring turned to summer, passions were stirred and hopes were raised and dashed and sometimes raised again. Minutiae from yesterday's game furnished grist for today's debates. In New York especially, with three major league teams, baseball rivalries tested relationships and cemented friendships.
Like Goodwin, my childhood worship of the Brooklyn Dodgers was excellent preparation for adult life as a Red Sox fan. Even the enemy remains the same (the dreaded Yankees). Perennial disappointment never crushed my faith that next year would bring the Dodgers a World Series championship. And it finally did, in 1955 proof in my mind that the Red Sox, still undefeated in '99 as I pen these words, are sure to end their 80-year World Series drought this year.
The strength of my emotional addiction to baseball was severely tested by the 1994 players' strike and the obscene escalation in major league player salaries and ticket prices. But, try as I might to swear off my love and allegiance, I've not been able to kick the habit. I may watch the Lowell Spinners at spanking new LeLacheur Park more often than the Red Sox at Fenway, but I'll still continue to appreciate the grace and subtleties of the game and pray for a Red Sox championship. It's the legacy of my relationship with Dad.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito