Friday, October 24, 2003
Shorts from the Selectmen, October 14
• Quarterly Taxes. Town Treasurer Larry Barton raised the issue of quarterly tax payments once again. This has been a tempting possibility since Ann Vandal was treasurer and it has some fiscal merits. Barton disclosed that the town had to pay $8,200 in interest when it was forced to borrow $2M for 90 days last summer to pay bills. "Even if it costs us $1,000 per mailing for two additional property tax bills, we still save $6,200," said Barton.
He went on to explain that quarterly tax bills would allow the town to get its tax bills out on time, since the August and November bills would be estimated. Although admitting that there will always be a vocal minority who will complain, Barton concluded, "It would significantly smooth out the process." The town Finance Committee had previously voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Selectmen move the town to quarterly billing. Selectman Allison suggested that Barton pull together all the information and formally present his case to the Selectmen, and Barton readily agreed.
• CORI confusion and frustration. Kathy Hassey, chair of the Carlisle Youth Commission, remains distraught by the effect of CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) on their middle school Friday Night Live (FNL). (See "CORI causing confusion, frustration," in the October 3 issue, on the web.) CORI presents a huge problem to Hassey, who must obtain criminal record checks on the 540 volunteers associated with FNL. Hassey, who has led the FNL program for seven years, refuted a previous report quoting her as saying, "I will not do this," but she did ask the Selectmen for guidance and counsel on how to save the program.
What followed was an animated and sometimes very emotional discussion that lasted for the better part of an hour. Selectman John Ballantine spoke defiantly against an "onerous law" that imposed such a "large burden on the town." "What are the other towns doing?" asked Selectman Vivian Chaput. Having to reveal your social security number was identified as enough to discourage some volunteers. Others objected to the invasion of privacy, a paperwork nightmare, and legal swamp. Eventually all eyes focused on Police Chief Dave Galvin seated calmly in the audience.
"These are the rules," Galvin advised. "I think we should comply with the rules or we will be liable." Thus placated, the group settled down to decide on a solution. "I can provide a locked storage at the police station for the CORI reports," volunteered Galvin, "but the police aren't allowed to do checks." Galvin suggested that FNL organize in such a way so as to minimize the required CORI checks. Several admitted that filling out the application was really quick and easy if folks didn't get hung up on the social security number disclosure. Finally the Selectmen assured Hassey that she would not have to face the burden alone and they vowed to continue their search for a law-abiding and palatable solution.
• Comcast report. Darice Wareham, Chair of the Carlisle Cable Advisory Committee, provided an update on our town cable service. "1,560 homes in Carlisle are now being serviced by Comcast," she proudly announced. These services include analog and digital television, high-speed Internet service, high definition TV, and Comcast's 'video on demand'. "47 more homes in the Curve Street area will be added by the end of the fourth quarter or early January," she added. The only remaining homes after that either require long drops or are on private ways that could be cabled if residents contribute to the construction costs.
• Stabilization Fund. Town Treasurer Larry Barton informed the Selectmen that money taken out of the stabilization fund to pay down debt on the Hutchins-Robbins fields (Wang-Coombs Land) is eating away at the fund due to the difference in interest rate between what the fund earns (about 1%) and what the bond requires (5.35%). Barton circulated three scenarios to illustrate the situation and to offer possible alternatives.
The 20-year general obligation bond for Hutchins-Robbins was issued on June 15, 2000 for $2,150,000. At a later date after the bond was issued, Carlisle received $320,000 through a grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Since this money was too late to be used to reduce the original bond issue, it was deposited in the stabilization fund. Since then, we have voted at three Annual Town Meetings to withdraw a principal payment of $16,845 and the associated interest owed on the bond — equal to 5.35% of the principal balance. For the Spring Town Meeting of 2003, this was $16,845 plus $15,220.56 in interest for a total of $32,065.56. It doesn't take a financial wizard to realize that this will quickly deplete our stabilization fund if we're only enjoying about a 1% return. Barton calculated that with the proposed debt service transfer schedule that we are using today, $491,692.86 would be withdrawn from the fund before the $320,000 debt was finally retired.
One alternative scenario described by Barton withdraws money from the stabilization fund only at the rate that the interest is earning. Assuming an annual rate of 1.5% (a bit higher than at present), a more tolerable $359,993.81 would be withdrawn from the fund before the $320,000 debt was finally retired. Finally, Barton displayed a printout that gives up any hope of covering bond interest with stabilization funds. Taking into account the $99,292.22 already transferred at three Town Meetings, the transfer schedule only makes principal payments of $14,713.85 annually until the $320,000 debt is retired.
Chair Tim Hult offered a preference for the last scenario, the straight-line plan with $14,713 payments. Selectman Tony Allison, formerly chair of the Finance Committee, recommended that Barton continue to pursue the problem by "pushing some more numbers" before making a final recommendation to the Selectmen.
© 2003 The