Friday, October 18, 2002
Much bad news, some good for MAGIC towns
Legislators offered a lot of bad financial news, with a sprinkling of good, at the semi-annual legislators breakfast sponsored by MAGIC (Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination) on October 10.
Carlisle selectman Vivian Chaput smiled broadly when she heard that about $4 million a year is available under the Transportation Enhancement Program to "preserve, restore, or enhance components of an intermodal transportation system which are not traditionally funded by the Federal Highway Administration of the Massachusetts Highway Department."
These monies have been used largely for bike and pedestrian facilities, but can also be used for safety and educational programs for pedestrians and bicyclists, acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites, landscaping. When it became clear that these are federal funds (which will not be preempted by the exigencies of the Big Dig), Chaput's smile got broader when she was told that under certain circumstances towns could be reimbursed for money already spent on appropriate projects that are already under way.
The Transportation Enhancement Program could be very good news for Carlisle residents interested in bike paths. Jim Fitzgerald, a transportation planner for MAPC (Massachusetts Area Planning Council), had described the program at MAGIC's January meeting in Concord. Available funds may cover acquisition (but not if by eminent domain), final design and constructiuon of approved projects. Quarterly dates are posted for application for funds. Last year eight or nine applications were submitted and five of these were approved.
State financial picture is grim
State representative Cory Atkins told the MAGIC group that, "It's going to be a very, very, very different year in terms of revenue," and added that another billion in state revenue has been lost. Regional planners are already thwarted by the drying up of Chapter 90 highway funds and the lack of money to develop new programs, such as the Fitchburg rail line. Dick Canale of Lexington, a representative on the regional transportation council, said, "Money is being spent on things to which they [the state] are legally committed by constraint of the central artery." He added that there is a small ray of hope for the Fitchburg line because the T is interested in a pilot project. Gordon Feltman, Bedford selectman, thought that attitude, as well as money, was involved in MBTA transportation decisions. He said, "Unless there is a loud and fairly consistent drumbeat about the importance of the reverse commute, we'll never see it." Part of that drumbeat could come from corporations like Cisco, which will create pressure because there is no public transportation for the thousands of employess who work at its new corporate headquarters in Boxborough.
Bedford has issued a comprehensive permit for 139 units of housing on Concord Road. Also the Bedford Woods project has received an occupancy permit although the environmental impact study has not been completed. Lexington representative Dick Canale said US Airways is picking up seven flights from Hanscom to LaGuardia, but the service has been deferred until February. He reports that PanAm has pending FAA approval for commercial flights to the islands, Bahamas and New York.
Concord selectman Ruth Lauer said the town's long-range plan is in effect, that affordable housing under 61A is under way, and that the town has made land purchases to protect its watershed. She then reported on a new and disturbing problem. This is a tax re-evaluation year. The assessors have used the state department of revenue rules, and the law requires assessment on the basis of recent sales for similar properties. Because tear-downs drive up valuation, they also drive up tax rates. Owners of existing housing have sustained a big tax increase. Lauer said that persons with average to middle income with conservation restrictions are affected most. Concord has enjoyed privately owned conservation land and now forsees a situation in which owners may decide not to keep their property with the conservation restriction because of the financial burden placed on them by reevaluation. Other community officials were sympathetic and concluded that the present tax structure "will end up by driving out middle income families."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito