Friday, May 13, 2005
Towns want say in sale of state property
It was a sure sign of the times that only one of the area's legislators, Senator Pam Resor (D-Acton), attended the MAGIC (Minuteman Area Group for Interlocal Coordination) spring legislative breakfast on April 28 . Everyone else was up on the hill, wrestling with the state budget. As Resor reminded the group, "We are all seeing the results of three years of cuts and more and more burden on property taxes."
Surplus property = state income
Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) project director Joel Barrera briefed the group on the current status of the sale of surplus state property as a souce of income for the state. The Commonwealth owns approximately one-tenth of the land area of Massachusetts. Holdings include open space, buildings and facilities, abandoned rights of way, public works facilities and so on. In 1991, then Governor Weld advocated a plan that would yield about $530 million through the sale of surplus state land, but his plan was never implemented.
During the fiscal year 2004 budgeting process, when the state faced a budget deficit of more than $3 million, Governor Romney proposed an expedited surplus property sale process, known as Section 548. This proposal was adopted in FY04 budget. Section 548 sunsets on June 30 of this year unless the Commonwealth adopts a new law to expedite the sale of surplus property. Failing that, sale procedure reverts to the policy in Chapter 7 of the state laws (which 548 replaced) and requires an act of the legislature for each separate sale, a condition that does not appeal to developers.
A lot is at stake
A hearing on the sale of surplus state property was held on May 11 at the State House. Carlisle has no surplus land that can be sold and state park land is excluded by Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. However, the town could be impacted by sales in other area towns.
The surplus property issue is heating up as June 30 nears. A lot is at stake: money for the state, access to profitable sites for developers, and a voice in matters which affect them for communities. Positions are solidifying around the issues of fast track deals, with quick aces for developers and quick revenue for the state vs. smart planning, with consideration of local and area needs and preferences, and participatory input from communities.
So far, 548 activity has been characterized by top-level decision making, with little or no community involvement. In one case, the town in which a surplus property was situated did not know the property was up for sale or when it was actually sold. Towns want the right of first refusal on property that goes on the market and would be happy to weigh in on the decision-making process. Towns also want their purchase right to be transferrable, as Carlisle has done in allowing the Carlisle Conservation Foundation act in its stead. Under the MMA (Massachusetts Municipal Association) and 548 the inclusion of planners and local personnel has been "cursory at best," according to one town representative at the April 28 meeting.
The hearing on May 11 discussed a bill co-sponsored by Resor and Representative Jim Eldridge (D-Acton) which favors consensus desicions and local participation in surplus property decisions.
CPA funding still a concern
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) has benefitted many area towns. Carlisle Selectman Doug Stevenson was present at the MAGIC meeting and asked the CPA question that was on everyone's mind: "Are we going to get unequivocal committment that funds are there?" Although Resor points out that it will take an act of the Legislature to change the structure of CPA, Bedford Selectman Gordon Feltman says "CPA money has changed sides. [Now] more money is going out than is going in." Barerra agreed and said, "Three to four years down the way there will be much less than 100% coming back."
There was a little good news. The Concord Rotary reconstruction is down to three plans and in the environmental review stage, and the most favored plan is "moving ahead," according to Resor. She also confirmed that the Crosby's Corner plan is "75% done and that she would try and get it on next year's Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) list.
© 2005 The