Friday, April 26, 2002
Don't reduce CPA too much
To the Editor:
This letter is relative to my concerns that in our budget debates coming up at Town Meeting we not lose sight of the town's goals relative to open space preservation, affordable housing, recreation and historic preservation. The Community Preservation Act allows the town to make decisions on investing in these chosen objectives with "fifty-cent dollars" because currently every dollar raised in local property taxes is matched 100% by the state under the Act. However, the CPA does have a local property tax impact any way you look at it.
We are all also very cognizant of the tremendous increases we have seen in local property taxes over the last four years and which will continue for at least a couple of more years. For that reason and in order to diminish the impact, the Board of Selectmen has voted to support a reduction in the CPA from 2% to 1%. I support a reduction in the interest of fairness since we are asking all town departments to tighten their budgets and do more with less money.
But reducing the CPA too far is counterproductive since we won't be receiving the matching funds from the state and the reduction will not generate more resources for the operating budgets. The CPA tax is somewhat progressive in that the first $100,000 of assessed value is exempt from it, as are low income persons. Any reduction in the CPA will, however, reduce the total local property tax by a small amount for most taxpayers.
For this reason, I urge townspeople to vote to reduce the CPA to 1.5%, but in any case not below 1%. This will still generate state matching funds, allow us to continue to set money aside for town purposes and create a savings/investment account which will make future planning more effective. The Community Preservation Act Committee intends to bring recommendations for the use of the funds to Town Meeting ONLY when we feel that the Town's goals and the Act's requirements can be met. In the meantime, we are continuing to set the funds aside until we find the appropriate goals-oriented proposal to bring to the voters for approval.
Thank you for all your careful consideration of all the budget issues.
Vivian F. Chaput
CPA surtax is a fair tax
To the Editor:
Among the articles to be debated at next month's Town Meeting are several designed to reduce the Community Preservation Act (CPA) surtax, now at 2 percent. This tax is supplemented by the Commonwealth (currently a I00 percent match) and funds a savings account for future multi-purpose land acquisitions conservation, affordable housing, and historic preservation that Carlisle is certain to want but otherwise not be able to afford.
But unlike the property tax, CPA is not a flat tax. Because the first $100,000 is exempt, the nominal 2 percent surtax is actually less than a 2 percent increase in the property tax. If your property is assessed at $100,000 or less, your CPA tax rate is zero. If your property is assessed at $200,000, your effective CPA tax rate is only 1 percent. If you have a $400,000 property, your effective rate is 1.5 percent. Even for a $1,000,000 assessed valuation the effective rate is not 2 percent but 1.8 percent.
Thus those citizens least able to afford Carlisle's high and ever-increasing property taxes are sheltered from the full effect of the CPA surtax. This fairest of taxes builds a fund for Carlisle's future and should not be cut.
Changes to the non-zoning wetlands bylaw
To the Editor:
Article 20 on the Town Warrant presents proposed changes to the existing Town of Carlisle Local Non-zoning Wetlands Bylaw. The proposed changes include: language to reflect the current Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, along with the 1996 Rivers Act, minor changes in language and removal of the inadequate $25 filing fee to be replaced with a schedule of fees set outside the bylaw in regulations.
The Carlisle Conservation Commission is proposing this change to the bylaw, as have other towns in Massachusetts, in order to recover costs to the town incurred administering wetland applications. Under the state's Wetlands Protection Act, state fees are divided between the state and the local commissions. The conservation commission office has been tracking the time spent on applications it receives and the commission has concluded that these fees do not adequately cover the costs to process and monitor, even smoothly-running projects.
Before setting new filing fees, the commission will hold a hearing for public input. When setting these new fees, we plan to balance the need to adequately recover costs with the need not to create a deterrence for the proper filing of small projects.
A copy of the proposed bylaw is available for review at the Gleason Public Library and at the Carlisle Conservation Commission office in the Town Hall on 66 Westford Road.
Carlisle Conservation Commission
To the Editor:
Keep in mind that we are not voting a one-time override, but a permanent increase in the tax base. One that will be there next year, and the year after that; long after your kids are out of school, and in the years when you retire (as are all of the past overrides we have voted for).
I am bothered that the school budget needs a 10% increase year after year to maintain "level services" and that the majority of the budget is "contractual obligations," which has the flavor of "we can't do anything about these costs." Does the contract go on forever? Or is it renegotiated periodically? Why can't we be more hard-nosed when we negotiate these contracts? I have heard that Carlisle teachers are among the highest paid in the state. I would like to see figures on this, along with the cost/pupil, and comparisons of cost/pupil for surrounding towns.
Reasoning goes that "...we have excellent schools, so people buy here, and that keeps real estate values high." This is a self-fulfilling argument that fuels increasing taxes. People who move here for the excellent schools have kids in them, and are highly motivated to make the schools even better. These folks are at their peak earning power and not likely to be looking at retirement.
When you vote on the override questions, keep in mind that higher real estate values don't produce a windfall until you sell your house, but the increased real estate tax is very real and immediate especially if you are retired and living on a fixed income (or even hoping to retire ... especially considering what has happened to most portfolios in the last few years). I'd like to retire here, but I hate to contemplate the tax bill once we build a new building and septic system. Maybe we would be better off with schools that were (to paraphrase Garrison Keillor) "above average" rather than "world class."
Log Hill Road
Why Burkel is running
To the Editor:
My first reaction to Maya Liteplo's recent editorial, "It's politics, stupid," was to chuckle. Then I wondered if by signing up as a school committee candidate I was a little crazy, a brave soul, or naive. It would be difficult to claim to be naive as I have watched my spouse devote endless hours to public service. Knowing the serious issues the school committee is grappling with, I would say that I fall somewhere along the continuum between a little crazy and a brave soul.
In the next two years, in addition to dealing with budget and policy issues, the school committee will face the challenge of hiring a new superintendent, renegotiating teachers' contracts, and evaluating space constraints. The outcome of each of these issues will have significant impact on all town citizens, with and without children in the school system.
I believe in taxpayer-supported schools and in preserving the diversity of our town. I believe that we need to strike a balance between the requirements for a good academic classroom education and what the community can afford. I think it is important to evaluate the costs and benefits of school programs and to explore alternative funding sources to support them.
I believe my experience as a business operations manager, as a former recreation department employee, as a treasurer for Friends of the Gleason Public Library, and as a parent of two children at CPS, could benefit the school committee. As a business manager I have extensive experience evaluating the financial implications of business plans, customer contracts, and company policies. I also have experience in bringing groups with competing goals to a successful outcome. Please support me with your vote on May 14.
Carlisle is not 'out of whack'
To the Editor:
As a school committee member I take very seriously the historic commitment Carlisle has had for high quality schools. I also take seriously concerns about rising property taxes and school expenses. But is Carlisle "out of whack" compared to the rest of the state?
Although of a much larger size, Concord, which has a separate K-8 operating budget (as opposed to what is reported in the media), has almost identical per pupil costs as Carlisle, between $8,400 and $8,500 (according to data from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees). Frankly, I found that match reassuring since we send our students to the same regional high school. Lincoln's K-8 system educates nearly the same number of students as Carlisle. Its per pupil expense is over $9,100. K-8 systems in other parts of the state have both higher and lower budgets than Carlisle. Overall, though, Carlisle's school costs don't stand out as abnormally high. And that's after the budget increases of recent years that have both accommodated an increase in population and the reinstatement of programs, including the library, that were decimated with the failure of a major override about ten years ago.
Nonetheless, our property taxes have risen steadily, creating a growing burden for those on fixed incomes whose home valuations have risen faster than their incomes. However, our tax situation isn't new. According to data from the Department of Revenue web site (http://www.dls.state.ma.us/allfiles.htm) Carlisle's 1988 tax rate was 16.56 and we had the fifth highest single family tax bills in the state. The other communities near the top of the list included Weston, Sherborn, Dover, and Lincoln. In 2002 our tax rate was 15.78, and we had the fourth highest single family tax bills, once again joined near the top of the list by those same communities.
We are not alone, or "out of whack," with our financial issues. Managing expenses is clearly a part of any good fiscal plan, but so is creatively seeking new revenue sources and finding ways to protect those on limited incomes. I urge us all to work together to maintain and extend the quality of the town's services, including the schools, while we seek ways to support, and even extend, income diversity within the town.
Carlisle School Committee
Rides available to Town Meeting
To the Editor:
A group of Carlisle parents with young children would like to offer rides to Town Meeting for all senior citizens that cannot drive at night. The issues facing our town affect all segments of the population, and we want every voice to be heard.
Please call 1-978-369-8522 for a ride to Town Meeting, May 6 and 7.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito