Friday, October 11, 2002
Help is available for towns facing 40B comprehensive permits
While Carlisle needs the affordable housing that comprehensive permit, or "40B," housing projects include, these high-density developments threaten our water quality and school system, because they bypass local regulations governing land use.(For a description of 40B developments, see the article below) Is it reasonable to ask developers to reduce housing density on 40B projects, because Carlisle relies on private well water and septic systems? Can Carlisle modify proposals for large 40B subdivisions, which would bring sudden jumps in school enrollments and strain the quality of the school system? What safeguards are in place when 40B projects use nonstandard septic treatment systems?
The best way for the town to protect itself is to learn as much as possible about the comprehensive permit process before the town faces its first application, which will probably be in the very near future. In July, builder Michael Kenny spoke informally with the board of selectmen about a 40B development he is designing for land on Lowell Street, and last month he met informally with the board of health.
Here are three things town boards can do to bone up on comprehensive permits: First, attend the conference at Bentley College in Waltham on October 17, titled, "Navigating Chapter 40B." Some of Carlisle's town staff members are planning to attend. The conference flyer specifically invites planning and zoning board members, other public officials, and municipal staff. Break-out sessions will include the 40B application review process, negotiation strategies, and drafting of BOA decisions. (The conference is jointly sponsored by the Citizen's Housing and Planning Association, Massachusetts Housing Partnership Fund, and Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. To register, call 1-617-742-3953. For more details, see the flyer on-line at www.chapa.org.)
The second way Carlisle officials might learn more is to contact the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) for technical assistance in reviewing 40B applications. MHP may provide up to $10,000 in consulting services to a town for each comprehensive permit application. For more information, call 1-877-MHP-FUND, or look at their web site at www.mhpfund.com.
And thirdly, town boards need to meet together to pool their knowledge. Those town officials with expertise in this area can be a resource for those facing comprehensive permit applications for the first time.
Chapter 40B housing projects can be complex and high-stakes. Carlisle will benefit from using all the help and technical assistance that is available.
Another kind of development
The last decade in Carlisle has been characterized by rising numbers of students entering our schools and consequent tax overrides to pay for those increases. Particularly in the last half of the 1990s, taxes have risen dramatically. Last year, of course, an override failed, and the era of dramatic yearly increases in tax bills, along with the regional high-tech boom, came to an end.
But the price of education continues to rise. It currently costs about $9,000 a year to educate one student at the Carlisle School; about $11,000 educates one student at Concord-Carlisle High School. Roughly 850 students attend the Carlisle School; a little over 300 attend CCHS. The school budget (the Carlisle School, CCHS, and Minuteman Tech) is by far the largest single item in our yearly town budget, at over $11 million.
With its rural character and fine schools, Carlisle continues to attract homebuyers with children. This puts more pressure on our schools and calls for increased taxes. Those without children in the schools often feel the pressure even more acutely. The cycle threatens to spiral out of control.
The finance and school committees of Carlisle and Concord have already begun meeting to try to avoid the standoff that disrupted last year's budgetary process. But it seems a safe bet that tax revenues alone will no longer cover the complete cost of what we want in our school programs.
In higher education, it was widely accepted long ago that tuition could not keep pace with the cost of education. To keep colleges and universities solvent, we turned to private donation on a year-round, on-going basis. Public as well as private institutions now have, as a matter of course, permanent fundraising offices.
If we consider our tax dollars as tuition for our students, then we have come to the end of what tuition/tax dollars can do. We need other, on-going sources of income. Otherwise, we are in for continuous, escalating, divisive town budget battles.
A volunteer force of parents in the town already assists with many phases of the Carlisle School's operation; key programs could not be run without their help. Private donations of money also help. The Carlisle Education Foundation currently holds annual fundraising events. Last spring, when the post of librarian at the Carlisle School appeared to be a casualty of the budgetary process, parents of Carlisle students responded to a CEF appeal and contributed over $50,000 in less than a month.
I suggest, however, that it might be time to consider a permanent, paid fundraiser to keep in touch with graduates of the school; to run annual fund drives; to organize special events and capital campaigns. In short, Carlisle might be ripe for a professional development office.
The Carlisle Schools have the faculty, administration, and programs that make for excellence by every possible measure. But that excellence has a price. We have stretched the real estate tax, as the chief means of monetary support for our schools, as far as it will go. We have a body of graduates, parents, and friends who, I think, would be delighted to support our schools. There are few, if any, better investments.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito