The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 21, 2008

Selectmen find new revenue ideas from old report

As Carlisle prepares for a second year of no-growth budgets, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) is welcoming any opportunity to increase revenues and avoid some anticipated cuts in personnel. On November 13 the Selectmen took another look at a document generated in 2003 by the Revenue Enhancement Committee, which consisted of Larry Bearfield, Bret Bero, Frank Golis, Roy Watson, and co-chairs Lisa Jensen-Fellows and John Kaufman. Its recommendations included a range of ideas, from increasing Town Hall fees to starting a social club. While some have since been implemented, BOS Chair Doug Stevenson noted, “I’m not sure we’ve done too much on many of these.” The BOS starred a few recommendations for later consideration, while discarding some ideas as unworkable.

Some ideas worth a revisit

A few initiatives that were ignored in 2003 were of interest. One of these was the suggestion for a standing grant committee. This volunteer committee would research grants of all kinds and be a central point for developing proposals. Currently, town departments do not always have the time or expertise to actively pursue grants. Another possibility was to single-source supplies used by various town departments. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie reported that some departments coordinate ordering, but it was felt that more could be done here. Increasing energy efficiency was also thought to be an opportunity, although it was noted that an energy audit committee formed earlier this year did not receive any volunteer interest. A further attempt will be made.

Another item suggesting leasing or sharing of equipment used by the town was assigned “at least a B” by Selectman John Williams and will be further investigated. However, it was noted that the logistics might be difficult for many items, as everyone needs a snowplow at the same time. A suggestion that the town plan to rent out use of existing or new school facilities such as the gym was met with ambivalence. However, Williams said, with construction about to happen, the idea should be considered.

Enforcement of the business personal property tax was another idea the report offered. Currently, many at-home business owners are unaware that they are required to file a business personal property tax with the town. Other towns are starting to look at better enforcement of this requirement in the face of diminishing revenues. It was not clear what would be involved, or how much revenue could be realized. Would notifying residents of the law result in greater compliance? While the idea did not receive high priority, Williams said, “We should check it out.”

Can more be done on fees, revolving funds?

Some suggestions in the report had been at least partially implemented. One of these was the recommendation to increase Town Hall fees to better reflect the true cost of services, including overhead. Fees for many town services had been adjusted, and Stevenson questioned if there were more that could be done. He noted the BOS philosophy that services used by most citizens should not carry fees as it is the role of taxes to pay for routine town functions.

McKenzie pointed to Transfer Station sticker fees as one area where revenue is not covering costs. Sticker fees are retained for handling hazardous materials and are not applied to routine trash disposal. In recent years, the amount of hazardous waste, including electronics, has grown. Currently the sticker fee covers $27,220 of the $42,517 cost of disposing of computers, printers, building materials, and other hazardous items. McKenzie noted that each computer discarded costs the town $20.

Williams said, “It seems kind of obvious the fee should cover costs.” But Selectman Alan Carpenito argued against any kind of “a la carte” fee for dumping as possibly requiring more personnel to oversee than it would be worth. The topic of fees, including license fees administered by the Town Clerk which have not been reviewed in a while, was starred for further investigation.

The next item in the report suggested examining revolving funds administered by the Board of Health, Recreation Commission and other boards, to see if there are unneeded surpluses that could go into the General Fund. This had been examined at the time of the report, and some funds were transferred, but Town Treasurer Larry Barton will be asked for an update.

Cell tower RFP still in process

The 2003 report suggested generating lease revenue by encouraging cell companies to site towers on town-owned land. This has proved more time-consuming than originally envisioned. Bill Tice, who is BOS liaison for the Wireless Communications Advisory Committee reported that, after several years of work, that committee expects to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the spring. Finance Committee Chair Dave Model questioned if the market is now saturated, to which Tice replied, “Do you have good phone service?” The answer was negative.

Tice noted that one of the advantages of the RFP is that “We can make some money off it under our terms.” He estimated the potential revenue in the tens of thousands and noted the RFP encourages distributed antennae applications versus the more visible monopoles. Tice said several locations have been analyzed and it is hoped the cell companies will welcome working cooperatively with the town.

Some items low priority

Other items in the report will receive less attention for a variety of reasons. The report predicted, for example, that a transfer tax on real estate at 2% could raise as much as $900,000 per year to be applied to a fund for town infrastructure. However, this would require a vote at Town Meeting and approval of a home rule petition by the state legislature. It was deemed likely to be unpopular as it would add to the cost of selling a home, and the timing is bad, given that the real estate market is already depressed. Several towns attempting similar measures have been sued, but a few seem to have had success. Further investigation will be done.

Another suggestion was a Carlisle Municipal Electric Company that could save households and town buildings over $500,000 per year. However, Stevenson noted the town would have a huge up-front investment to buy wires and poles from NSTAR, and would also incur all the maintenance and liability associated with running a utility. In addition, most of the advantage would go to household bills, and it was unclear how the town would benefit. It might be feasible if Carlisle could partner with a town such as Concord or Littleton that already has a municipal electric company, but that is not allowed by state law. Those towns took that path early on, and it is unlikely to be cost-effective for a town to convert now. However, it was agreed to “kick it around with Concord” town officials and see if there is any potential for the idea.

McKenzie noted that a new state regulation, now being challenged in court, would allow towns to tax public utilities for the use of right-of-ways. If the case is settled in favor of the towns, as much as $50,000 to $100,000 could be added to Carlisle town coffers.

The suggestion of a Carlisle Social Club at the Cranberry Bog House to be run by the town was quickly dismissed. A volunteer commission to act as a clearing house for opening up more opportunities at Town Hall was also set aside because volunteer levels are already high. Life estates, where the town would purchase a property and allow the homeowner to remain until death, were deemed unfeasible due to the significant up-front capital required. Advertising on town properties was thought to be an idea unlikely to be popular.

Having ranked the choices, and found a few ideas worth revisiting, Stevenson suggested that the matter be taken up at the next meeting. At that time, the BOS will decide what next steps need to be taken. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito