Monday, June 5, 2017

Vote YES for a New DPW Facility on Tuesday June 13

The following Letter to the Editor about the upcoming vote on the new DPW Facility was submitted to Longmeadow Buzz by Richard Foster, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board.
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Longmeadow Residents,


On June 13, voters will be asked to fund a new DPW facility.  The replacement of our Department of Public Works (DPW) complex has been the most studied event in the history of our town. We have three different engineering studies and reports from three or four resident volunteer task forces who have evaluated this replacement. Without question, the current effort is the most systematic and in-depth of all studies, which is why it has enjoyed overwhelming support at four Town Meetings since 2014.


In 1931, when our Department of Public Works maintenance complex was constructed, it was a simpler period of time, a time when trolleys provided transportation along Longmeadow Street connecting Enfield and Springfield.  It would be another twenty-five years before the high school building that we just replaced would open. In 1931, Longmeadow had 1294 dwellings, a population of 4437, and 23 miles of roadways.  According to the 2010 census, our town has 5948 housing units with a population 15,784. We presently have 91 miles of asphalt roads, 71 miles of sidewalks, 100+ miles of roadway drains and over 100 miles of water lines of various sizes.

In 1931, our fleet was comprised of Model T Ford trucks. Today our DPW fleet includes dump trucks, back hoes, tractors, mowers, a sewage vacuum truck, as well as many smaller pick-up trucks, sedans, and SUVs. Our maintenance shops are so small and outdated that our snow removal trucks do not fit into our repair shop resulting in our staff working on these vehicles outside when we have active snowplowing operations underway.

Our DPW operations experienced significant increases in responsibility over the years.  DPW now includes the Parks and Recreation Department. DPW cares for all town buildings including the schools, water systems, sewage systems, roadways, and recreational facilities including grounds.   The DPW is also classified by the federal government as a first responder agency, and as such, needs to be self-sufficient and operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. In addition to public works emergencies like water main breaks, they are called to support the activities of our Police and Fire Department for emergency operations under their management. Unlike other departments and operations in our community, DPW doesn’t shut down during emergencies. They report to work and perform critical support functions to protect the health and safety of our community.

Throughout the past year, there have been public meetings, public forums, websites, social media, and other direct interactions with town residents dedicated solely to this project.  The questions of “why can’t it be rebuilt at the current site?” and “why does it cost so much?” have been answered many times.  I encourage anyone who is unfamiliar with the project to go to the project website at longmeadow.org to see those answers or trust your friends and neighbors who have done the research and fully support the project.


As a resident and as a member of the Select Board, I ask you to vote yes on June 13 for a new DPW facility and to finally address a long overlooked problem in our community.

This is the Right Plan – The Right Place – The Right Time…Thank you.

Richard Foster

Friday, May 5, 2017

Vote YES on Article 31

 

Marybeth Bergeron, long time town resident and current chairperson of the Adult Center Building Committee shares her thoughts on Article 31 that will be considered by town residents during night #2 of the Annual Town Meeting.
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It has been said for the past decade, that baby boomers will change the way people live the last years of their productive lives.  As one of the baby boomers I agree.   Many of the Longmeadow older residents I know continue to play tennis, exercise daily, or go to the Jewish Community Center to swim.  When I attend learning opportunities at Storrs Library, I am impressed that the vast majority of people there are older residents of our town.  Vibrant and active, our residents seek out opportunities to live out their lives healthy, active and engaged.

So, I write today as the Chairman of the Adult Center Building Committee to encourage you to attend the SECOND  night of the Town Meeting on May 10th, and support the decision made by the Adult Center Building Committee and the Select Board to seek funds for architectural and design  of a new senior center at Greenwood Park under article 31 of the warrant.

ARTICLE 31- To see if the Town will vote to transfer from available funds in the treasury, the sum of $250,000.00, or a greater or lesser sum, for the purpose of funding Architectural and Engineering Services for the design of a new and/or renovated Adult Center at Greenwood Park, or take any other action relative thereto.

Our committee had submitted  to the Select Board four potential sites that might work.  Additionally, the original architect submitted a plan through the town manager which is called the “Greenwood Master Plan”.  That plan has been rejected by both the Select Board and the Adult Center Building Committee for many reasons.  That  Master Plan is not longer on the table, but the other four locations need to be reevaluated by an architect for a dedicated building for our senior residents.

The facility also services not only our senior residents needs, but also the Town nurse, the Veteran’s Agent, the Food Bank, and all of the Social Service Outreach in our town. Additionally the building is used after hours by various committees and groups, all of which we expect would  to continue in a new adult center.

The residents in Longmeadow represent one third of our population.  This is  tremendous growth in the past five years, and  that demographic  will increase through 2030. This growth indicates that the trend across our country of “aging in place” is also true in Longmeadow.

Our existing senior center is not large enough to accommodate the hundreds of people that currently use the site daily, nor the participation of the increasing numbers of senior residents that  is expected. The building was a school, built for children.

You will recall that at the Town Meeting in October 2016, our residents spoke loudly and clearly that they wanted the Adult Center to remain at Greenwood.     We heard you.  If Greenwood  is where our residents want the senior center, we believe it may be a challenge, but it is do-able. 

In order to proceed, the town needs approval of article 31, in order to secure the services of a building architect and a landscape architect.    We cannot move this needed project forward without design funds.

Aging is a gift and a privilege.  There are some  people that will never have the gift of  aging.  So,  as community, let us age gracefully and with dignity…… together .

Vote YES on Article 31.

Marybeth Bergeron


Upcoming Two Night Annual Town Meeting



Below is a LTE from Select Board chair, Marie Angelides with some comments about next week's two night Annual Town Meeting.






   
Tuesday May 9th and Wednesday May 10th Longmeadow is having a two night town meeting. This year there are too many important issues to be appropriately discussed and voted on in one night.

This year the Select Board and School Committee worked together on a balanced budget and we were still able to maintain our commitment to a quality education, address our unfunded retiree benefits, increase our investment in our crumbling infrastructure, and not go to the full 2 ½ % tax increase as allowed by law.

The Town will continue deliberations regarding the effort to build a new DPW. This is a difficult project, the town has delayed since the 1980s. We can no longer allow our employees to work in the current conditions at the complex. Every year we delay the project, the town is risking its substantial investments in equipment, on a site and in building that is not fully insurable because it is located in the floodplain. Previous town meetings made it clear that the facility should not be sited on town-owned land, especially open space.  Therefore, the site that has been recommended by the volunteer DPW Committee is the Grand Meadows Tennis Club property on Dwight Road.  Like most residents, I do not want to spend over 20 million dollars on a new complex, but it is necessary to do what is right  for the community. Delaying the project the past 30 years has not made it any cheaper; any delay will only increase the cost of this necessary project.

The first night will also include discussion on three articles related to the private development on Dwight Road. This project does three important things:
  1. Increases the tax base without changing the character of the community
  2. Addresses the problems of the two of most dangerous intersections in town.
  3. Creates a more convenient health care facility for the community. 
    The District Improvement Financing is a creative approach to financing and developing this project. Additionally, this public/private partnership may open up additional revenue opportunities. 
The second night Town Meeting will address many other important articles including the planning of a new Adult Center. A new Adult Center is the second building priority established by the town’s elected officials. The current center does not meet the needs of our seniors and this is the fastest growing segment of the population in Longmeadow. Seniors already constitute more than 33% of the town.  Like the DPW project, previous Town Meetings decided not to use open space to site a new facility- preferring to keep it at Greenwood Park. The Adult Building Committee working with the staff has outlined the program space needed for the building and the need for a building dedicated to the services needed for this population.  The funds requested in the article will continue the planning effort for a building dedicated solely to Adult services at the Greenwood Park. The Select Board has also approved a goal of a zero energy building that requires extra design money. The design money will be necessary to get this project, with the necessary detail and estimated costs in front of Town Meeting next year.

The second night will also include the establishment of a Stormwater Enterprise Fund. The EPA has mandated significant new regulations for all towns and cities that becomes effective this July. The purpose of this unfunded mandate is for clean water in our streams, rivers, and lakes where stormwater (runoff from rain and snow) is directed by the drainage system.  In addition to water quality testing, the new regulations require additional maintenance to the drainage system.  The estimated cost to Longmeadow is $200,000. The new fee proposed by the Select Board is tied directly to the costs of the EPA mandates. We are also working on policies to reduce fees for commercial and nonprofit  property owners who manage stormwater onsite as well as policies of rates setting based on projects approved by town meeting.   Our current stormwater infrastructure annual costs are well over a million dollars and are completely funded by property taxes. These added increased costs will reduce current services if new revenue is not generated. 

I have included only the highlights in this year’s Warrant.  We also have by-law changes, Community Preservation Projects, and numerous citizen petitions (including the much discussed “bees”!). Please come to the two night meeting and have your voice heard. In Longmeadow, you are the legislative branch of government.

Thank you,
Marie Angelides
Select Board

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Town Resident Supports New DPW Facility





This "Letter to the Editor" was submitted by town resident Douglas P. Sarnelli in Support of a New Department of Public Works Facility for the Town of Longmeadow

  




 As a concerned resident of Longmeadow I am writing to urge all residents to attend our town meeting on Tuesday May 9th and to support the decision made by the Public Works Committee to relocate the Longmeadow Department of Public Works Facility from Pond Side Drive to that of site known as the Grande Meadows Tennis Club property located at 170 Dwight Road.

In January 2016, Town Manager Stephen Crane convened a Public Works Committee to confirm the need for a new Department of Public Works Facility, to determine the appropriate site for such a facility and to approve a facility design based on the current and future needs of our town.

The Public Works Committee is comprised of nine Longmeadow town residents from many professions who volunteer their time and talent. They have vested interests as residents and taxpaying members of our community. Under the superintendence of Committee Chair Christopher Cove and Co-Chair Arlene Miller, the Committee carefully analyzed well over two hundred possible sites as well as all financial, social, environmental, legal and all other practical considerations necessary for making a sound recommendation to the town. While I am not a member of the Committee, I have attended every Public’s Works Committee meeting for the past fifteen months and I have had the opportunity to observe the committee administer its civic responsibilities with the requisite professionalism, integrity and due diligence.

The Committee, in its many months of deliberations has deemed that the current public works facility is obsolete, incapable of adequately serving the needs of our community and unable to provide a sustainable work environment for its employees. The facility is located on an old ash dump and in a floodplain. To construct a new facility at the current location on Pond Side Drive would be too costly as the facility and our equipment would be uninsurable, being in a floodplain. In the event of a natural disaster it would present great risk to the Department of Public Works employees and to town owned equipment just when public work’s services would be needed the most.

In an October 2016 town vote, our community spoke clearly, affirming the Committee’s decision that the site selected should not affect any residential neighborhoods, parklands or athletic fields or our precious “green space.” 

The proposed facilities designed by Weston Sampson Engineers and the Committee is cost effective, will be energy efficient and conscious of our environmental concerns and most importantly will allow the Public Works employees to administer their duties and responsibilities in an efficient and effective manner in an environment that meets all current safety and regulatory requirements.  The Committee’s budgetary considerations for this project have operated well within the appropriate margins in designing a modest facility to accommodate only our current operational needs and has demonstrated the necessary sensitivity to any tax increase to property owners.  Our town’s Finance Committee supports these measures.

In closing, the Town of Longmeadow is very fortunate to have a body of dedicated, honorable and deeply concerned residents presiding over this Public Works Facility matter.  I wish to personally thank the committee for its commitment to our town and for the hundreds of hours spent away from family and professional and personal interests.  The Public Works Committee has earned the trust and confidence of our town.  All residents should support the committee’s decision to relocate the Department of Public Works Facility from Pond Side Drive to that of the Grande Meadows site on 170 Dwight Road.

Douglas P. Sarnelli, Longmeadow, Massachusetts

Article #32- Storm Water Enterprise Fund


This "letter to the editor" regarding Article #32 (Storm Water Enterprise Fund) which will be considered at the Annual Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 10 was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Curt M. Freedman, who resides at 24 Ridge Road.

 
At the next Longmeadow Annual Town Meeting on May 9th and 10th, Article #32 calls for the establishment of a separate Stormwater Enterprise Fund as per M.G.L. c.44, § 53F½ that will charge annual service fees to pay for upgrades to stormwater infrastructure and maintenance which are presently paid for by our property taxes.  Under our present law, MGL c. 83: §16, our selectmen, “may from time to time establish just and equitable annual charges for the use of common sewers and main drains and related stormwater facilities, which shall be paid by every person who enters his particular sewer therein. The money so received may be applied to the payment of the cost of maintenance and repairs of such sewers or of any debt contracted for sewer purposes.”  We are also required by law to abide by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision: “Emerson College v. Boston (1984),” that mandates that fees be fairly substantiated; the revenue from one customer cannot unfairly subsidize the costs of utilizing the system for another customer.  The judges ruled that an unfair subsidization effectively becomes a “TAX” and no longer a “FEE” and would be ILLEGAL and CONTRARY to Massachusetts law.

Based on direct past and present experience, our town does not know how to charge for service fees that are “just” and “equitable.”  Can we ever forget the Ascending Sewer Rate policy in 2007 that was advertised to have only a 15% increase, but resulted in many customers having their water and sewer costs more than double.  Two years ago, the Selectmen (Water & Sewer Commissioners) attempted to impose hundreds of dollars of annual fixed fees on our water bills per household that would have caused large increases for thousands of residents and dis-incentivized water conservation.  Since Longmeadow still does not allow irrigation water meters (yet surrounding communities do), homeowners who water their lawns pay ghost sewer bills of approximately $550,000 per year.   

Please excuse me for sounding cynical, but for more than 20 years, our Water & Sewer commissioners (now the Selectmen) have been informed on how to adjust our water & sewer rate policy to be “just” and “equitable” as required by law.  For decades, our elected officials have punished us for watering our lawns, now they want to punish us for raindrops landing on our driveways.

If this article passes, our town will have "good" driveways and "hydraulically evil" driveways that could cost each resident tens of thousands of dollars to make impervious surfaces pervious, a most ridiculous hidden tax camouflaged as a user fee.  Let us not have such saturating rainy day government policies result in:  breeding grounds for mosquitoes, flooded basements, and evaporation of our limited liquid financial assets.  Let us also not have this "Rainy Day Tax" compete with funding for other projects in our community with greater societal needs.

Article #32 is not in our Town's interests; it only deserves to be flushed down the toilet.

 


 


Curt M. Freedman, PE

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Single (vs. Split) Property Tax Rate for Longmeadow

Bill Low, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board shares the reasons for his vote last month to continue a single property tax rate (vs. split tax rate ) for residential and commercial property owners.
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Every year the town Select Board must vote to have a single or split tax rate. The split rate creates a separate rate for residents and commercial/industrial property owners. The intent of a split rate is to shift more of the tax burden onto businesses, presumably because they make a profit, as opposed to home owners who are just supporting town services. When a City, like Springfield, with 20%-25% of the real estate classified as commercial/ industrial/ personal shifts the tax to that category, it can make a big difference to home owner’s tax costs while raising the business owners by a nominal amount. Don’t misunderstand; Springfield’s commercial tax rate is the highest in the state and, in many people’s minds, stifles new business development, but homeowners still benefit with a lower tax rate.

However, as is the case in Longmeadow with less than 5% categorized as commercial/industrial, a split tax rate has the following effect: every 1% shift to the commercial owners, raises their rates by $.25 per $1,000 of value ($525 per year on average) and reduces residential rates by only a penny, or $3.50 a year on average.

Additionally, the commercial property owners, who are landlords, pass those cost to their tenants. In the case of retail properties, leases are “net” or “triple net” (the terms are misused constantly), what’s important is; the total real estate taxes are passed on to the tenant. With office buildings, the increase is also paid by the tenant via “escalators” or “expense stops” regardless if the lease is all inclusive or a “gross lease”, the increase in any operating expense is paid by the tenant.

Regardless of whether the tax rate is split or single, the amount of tax revenue raised by a town in Massachusetts is not effected.

So, what does this shift accomplish? In 30 years in the real estate industry I have dealt with large, national companies, public real estate investment firms (REIT's) and small family owned businesses. Small family owned businesses can be put out of business by this kind of increase, while larger companies will pass this cost to the consumer. In the case of a town like Longmeadow, it’s a lose-lose proposition.

William H. Low
Longmeadow Select Board

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another Select Board Member Weighs in on the SOI Submission

Mark Gold, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board sent the following letter to fellow town residents who have recently asked him to support and approve an updated Statement of Interest to renovate the existing middle schools or build a new school(s) or a combination of both.
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Dear Longmeadow Resident,

Thank you for your note asking me, and the rest of the Select Board, to support the School Committee’s middle school Statement of Interest (SOI) to be submitted to the Mass School Building Authority (MSBA).  I believe that there is much about the MSBA’s school project consideration process that was learned from our high school project, and I think it’s important that residents remember what happened with that project.
 
At the time the high school SOI was submitted, town residents were told, much like we are being told now, that the MSBA received many applications each year, that their waiting list for projects was long, and that it would be several years before the Longmeadow High School project was accepted for action.  It was a short time later that the MSBA notified the school committee that they had accepted the Longmeadow SOI and were ready to move forward with a project.  At the time, the Longmeadow School Committee placed the following statement on their website, a statement at remains posted today:

“…Longmeadow High School was deemed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) as a school in need of immediate attention. The MSBA has committed millions of dollars to Longmeadow to assist in the corrective action determined through the feasibility study process.  However, this money comes with strict guidelines. Once the MSBA has approved the project funding scope (scheduled for March 2010), Longmeadow has only 120 days from that date to pass the debt exclusion at Town Meeting in April and at the polls in June. If the town votes the motion down, we will not have a second chance and the MSBA will move on to one of the 400 other towns in need of assistance.  Longmeadow will be placed in the back of line and have to start the process all over again. At that point, there is no guarantee that we will receive funding from the state.” 

The fact that the town was not ready to move forward would be overwhelmed by those who insisted we must move forward with all deliberate speed least we lose the opportunity for partial state funding.

So, in 2009, even when town residents had not sorted through the project details, the school committee moved forward.  Lost in the memory of many residents it the fact that the MSBA’s analysis of the project was that the Longmeadow high school should be renovated, not replaced.  This conclusion was described in a letter dated November 10, 2009 to Longmeadow School Superintendent E. Jahn Hart that stated, “The MSBA and its Consultant have believed that the Longmeadow High School has strong potential for renovation, and the conclusions of your feasibility study have not substantially altered that view.”  On November 16, 2009, just a few days after that letter was received, a hastily gathered delegation of School Committee members, along with State Representative Brian Ashe, visited the MSBA to convince them that a renovation project was inappropriate.   Armed with letters from Congressman Neal, State Senator Candara and others, the rest, as they say, is history.   These letters and minutes of the meeting are now part of the public record.

It was the outcome of that November 16, 2009 meeting between a few “new school” proponents and the MSBA that convinced me that the current argument that the MSBA will help the town find the most appropriate solution to the middle school issue is incorrect at best, and misleading at worst.  The premature submission of an SOI will simply allow those with connections to the MSBA to dictate the direction of the project(s).  The proper methodology, in my opinion, for determining the forward path in this effort is for the town, led by its elected leaders on the School Committee and Select Board, to develop a single proposal for addressing the middle school situation and present that single solution to the MSBA for state assisted funding.
   
Submitting an SOI without first establishing a consensus on a single forward plan is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse.  Additionally, we should not be submitting an SOI in anticipation of not receiving state approval “for several years”.  By doing so, we’re wasting our time and the time of the MSBA.  I am convinced that a properly developed plan, that demonstrates clear and compelling need AND community support, will receive state support and funding in a timely manner.

At the current time I do not believe that a consensus has been reached with respect to any of the following issues:
  1. Whether it is appropriate to repair either or both of the current schools or to replace one or both schools. 
  2. If the decision is to build new, whether or not to combine our two middle schools to a single school or maintain the current two-school structure
  3. Where we would put a single school, on the Glenbrook campus on the Williams Campus
  4. Whether there is sufficient town support to fund the plan that is developed.
Throughout this process, please be assured that I agree that current physical condition of the Longmeadow middle schools merit the attention of our town leaders and residents.  I am familiar with the details of the buildings’ shortcomings as described in architectural studies and reports, but have not participated in discussions on the optimum resolution of those shortcomings.  As Select Board member I will be asked to approve the submission of an SOI to the MSBA.   To my understanding, that document has not yet been written, yet it appears to have the support of a number of residents who also do not know what is contained in that document, what assistance it asks for, or what information it conveys.   My decision to vote in favor of submitting an SOI to the MSBA for financial support to addressing the shortcomings of the Longmeadow middle schools will, to a very large extent, depend on what information that SOI contains, and what actions it seeks.  To ask the MSBA to identify the best way to address the shortcomings of the Longmeadow middle schools is, in my opinion, inappropriate.

Again, my thanks for writing to me on this important topic.  My goal is to meet the expectations of the majority of the residents while providing for the future of our middle school facilities.  I have every reason to believe that we can and will meet both of the objectives of that goal. 

Regards,
Mark Gold
Longmeadow Select Board

Select Board member expresses position on the Middle School(s) SOI

An open letter by Selectman Richard Foster in response to citizens who have requested his view of an SOI (statement of interest) submission to the state regarding a future middle school project in Longmeadow....
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As a Select Board member I am tasked with establishing policy and direction for our entire community. We accomplish this task by acquiring an understanding of past actions taken by our community and guidance obtained from a patchwork assembly of policies, by-laws and general laws used for the management of communities across the Commonwealth. The greatest disservice I could provide to our community would come from being myopic in my decision-making process. In reviewing the history of our community there has been a very clear bias towards our schools stimulated by well-meaning, but often misinformed electorate.

In 1986 the Select Board brought before the town a warrant article to replace our severely deteriorated DPW complex. The price at that time to rebuild this structure was less than $3,000,000. This warrant article was disapproved at our town meeting and never brought before the electorate again. Ironically, in less than two years from that date, our Select Board recommended our community authorize millions of dollars’ worth of work to be performed on Center School.  Our DPW complex still needed replacement, but the Select Board and our community simply turned their backs on this critical need and concentrated on more popular “low hanging fruit” projects.  Our High School, which was recently replaced because it was “worn out” was originally constructed 25 years after the construction of our DPW complex. Again, as a community, we abandoned the other needs in our community and placed a school project ahead of everything.  Presently 97.54% of our General Fund debt in our community is for school projects. We have outstanding school debt of $42,190,000 which will not be totally paid off until 2041.  One would think there would be public outcry claiming dereliction of duty by the Select Board for allowing our DPW complex to deteriorate to its current state.  Instead, I receive emails telling me to do my job and perform my civic duty by approving an SOI. Ironically, when I conferred with individuals in our community who have experience with the SOI process and the work required for public approval, their opinions are unanimous. They all say, “We are not ready at this time for the approval of an SOI for the replacement of our middle schools.”  We have individuals in our community with intimate knowledge of this entire process telling me we are not ready and we have school committee members and residents with limited or no knowledge of this process encouraging me to do my civic duty by approving an SOI. Our school committee has been briefed by these knowledgeable individuals who said Longmeadow is not ready for this submission, and yet, they continue to lobby for this approval while not taking the advice of those who are experienced in this process.

At a recent Select Board meeting I presented a briefing on our water and sewer systems. In this briefing I demonstrated that during the winter months nearly 50% of our sewage flow being sent to Bondi Island is coming from infiltration and inflow and not being generated by our water usage. This comes from leaking pipes and surface water being deposited into our sewer system. Every homeowner in our community is paying for this waste. This could be corrected with ample funding. Some of the newest pipes in our system are 50 to 75 years old. Is anyone ready for a $20,000,000 to $40,000,000 override to work on our sewer system? Or perhaps the same amount for our failing water distribution system? We could easily expend another $15,000,000 on sidewalks replacement, not to mention the staggering amount of money that we could be spending annually on our roadways and parking lots. These estimates are from current engineering studies. The reality of our current form of government is that prioritization of projects is ignored when a special interest single-issue group can override decisions made by the Select Board at our town meetings.  Even with a critically flawed project prioritization system, no one would have ever replaced our High School before replacing our crumbling DPW complex and yet that is exactly what we as a community did. This is the result of single-issue special interest groups overlooking and/or ignoring the overall needs of our community and voting to support issues which are often not being recommended by those elected to represent the best interest of our entire community.

Our school committee talks about the physical needs of our schools, and yet, last year they ignored the recommendations of our Superintendent, Town Manager, Town Chief Financial Officer, and the Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations for the Schools by supporting full funding of tuition-free Full Day Kindergarten as the highest need of the school district while rejecting money-saving proposals offered by our School management team. Instead of supporting the care of our schools, they recommended the adoption of a discretionary program which took hundreds of thousands of dollars away from the town and away from the funding sources used to improve the physical condition of our schools and other town properties while only benefiting approximately 150 families. This was not a onetime removal of these funds, it was a permanent transfer of these funds from discretionary spending to fixed cost. It must be noted that the Chair of the School Committee who was a member of the budget negotiation team did not support the actions of the school committee. Instead she submitted and recommended a phased approach for providing tuition-free Full Day Kindergarten, but this was rejected by some members of the School Committee in favor of their proposal of 100% funding this program immediately. The 100% now funding proposal was not recommended or supported by any of the town or school administrative or management staff.

Will we move forward with an SOI on our middle schools? Yes, when the time is right, and when we as a community, are ready to move forward. Until then, I will continue to do what I was elected to do for our community. To be thorough, impartial, and fair in my evaluation of the needs of our entire community and strive each day to make our community better than it was yesterday. Believe me, your Select Board is here to support all of the needs of our community in a fair and equitable manner.

Richard Foster

Friday, November 25, 2016

New DPW. New Adult Center. New middle school…What are the costs?

The following article was submitted to the Longmeadow Buzz blog by Dr. Andrew Lam who is a town resident and member of the Longmeadow Finance Committee.
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There’s been much discussion in Longmeadow about the next three capital projects we’re likely to undertake: a new DPW facility, a new adult center, and a new middle school. While there’s general consensus that the DPW ranks first in urgency, the overall decision-making process has been somewhat haphazard. For example, at 2015’s fall town meeting the DPW Facility Task Force recommended a new DPW be built adjacent to Wolf Swamp fields; funds were appropriated to proceed with further study and design. Then, at 2016’s spring town meeting, a vocal group of citizens opposed this location and the plan was abandoned. Our most recent town meeting accepted Grande Meadows as the probable DPW location. Unfortunately, our indecision wasted time and money—most obviously the funds expended to study the Wolf Swamp fields location.


Also at our recent town meeting, a proposal to build a new Adult Center at Bliss Park was defeated. The need for a new Adult Center, and its location, remain hotly debated issues. Ideally, this project should be decided in conjunction with the third looming project—a new middle school—because available land and facilities in town are highly dependent on whether our two middle school buildings are renovated or combined into a new building.

Just as we shouldn’t construct new buildings without a picture of what else will be built or torn down in the next ten years, we certainly shouldn’t proceed without a clear financial plan to pay for them, either. How expensive will these projects be and can we afford them?

As a Finance Committee member for the last three years, I’ve learned a lot about these projects; and, in the event that all three are undertaken, I’d like to lay out, as simply as possible, how they might affect us financially as taxpayers, and as a town. My goal in doing so is merely to provide information, not to promote or oppose any of these projects or any alternatives.

First, a few facts. In fiscal year 2016, Longmeadow had the highest residential tax rate in Massachusetts: $24.33 per $1,000 of home value. The average home in Longmeadow costs about $320,000, so the average tax bill is about $7,786. There’s a state law that mandates the tax rate cannot exceed $25 per $1,000, and our town is on course to hit this maximum in the next 5-6 years. At that point, significant cuts to all departments would be unavoidable. All town officials, from the Town Manager to the members of the Select Board and School Committee, are well aware of this ceiling and share the goal of postponing its arrival.

Funding for capital projects like new buildings can be “debt exclusions,” which means we can borrow the money and the resulting tax increase would not be subject to the $25 per $1,000 limit.

More background. Using round numbers, our annual budget is about $60 million. Our current debt stands at approximately $48 million. We spend about $5 million annually on debt service (around 8% of the budget). Finally, one of our most important goals is to maintain our excellent Moody’s rating of Aa2, because a decline in our rating would mean higher borrowing costs.

The information that follows is based on fiscal assumptions made by our Finance Director, Paul Pasterczyk.

The approximate anticipated cost of each new building project is: DPW $15 million, Adult Center $6 million, middle school $40 million (this is the town’s portion for the middle school assuming the state’s MSBA funds half). $5 million of the DPW costs would be borne by increased water and sewer fees; therefore, all three additions would ultimately increase our debt load by about $56 million.

What would this mean for property taxes?

If we assume the DPW project starts in 2018, the Adult Center in 2019, and the middle school in 2023 (even if we gained MSBA funding approval now, construction would not begin for 5-6 years), plus a 4% interest rate for 20 year terms, then here is a simplified chart showing how each project would increase annual property tax on the average household (home value $320k).

Between 2019 and 2023, the annual tax increase remains about $217, but increases to $749 with the start of the middle school project (about a 10% increase from current taxes). It will remain near this level for several years, but the cost of all three projects will gradually decline to the figures in the final column in the last year of each loan’s 20-year term.

    - How will this affect our town budget?
    - The average annual cost over the 20-year term of each project is as follows:


Taking on debt of this magnitude always has the potential to adversely affect our Moody’s rating. To counteract this, we should strive to strengthen our town reserves through increased funding to free cash and the operational stabilization fund.

There remains much to be decided. Should the two middle schools be renovated, rebuilt, or combined into one? Should the Adult Center be renovated or rebuilt? If one new, combined middle school is built at the Williams site, would an Adult Center be well-positioned at the Glenbrook site? Would it be more prudent to push these projects farther into the future? Or even reconsider them entirely?

We don’t yet know how our town will decide to answer to these questions, but we know we’ll be best served by taking the long view and considering these projects together, rather than each in isolation. Very recently, the Select Board began contemplating the formation a permanent building committee with this goal in mind.

And yet, there’s something far more important than forming another town committee: citizen engagement. Many townsfolk were opposed to a Wolf Swamp fields DPW site; but, to a large extent, these individuals were not present at the preceding town meeting in which they could have spoken out against the DPW Task Force’s recommendation. Their opposition was heard loud and clear six months later, but we all suffered from this costly delay. The Town Manager has made increased community outreach and communication a priority, but the onus is on us, as citizens, to make the effort to attend town meetings and seek out what’s happening in Longmeadow. Because when our legislative branch is the town meeting, the quality of our government depends on all of us. 
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Andrew Lam, M.D., is a retinal surgeon, author, and member of the Longmeadow Finance Committee. He can be contacted at alam@longmeadow.org.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why Greenwood Park was not Selected as the Preferred Site.

Read this summary to better understand why Greenwood Park is not the preferred site for a new or renovated Adult Center.
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Figure 1- Aerial View of  Greenwood Park
Hatched area shows Greenwood park land- a large % of the total parcel
Below is an excerpt from the full report issued by the Adult Center Building Committee (ACBC) chaired by Marybeth Bergeron regarding the possible selection of Greenwood Park for a renovated or new Adult Center.  This report was presented by Ms. Bergeron to the Select Board at their regular meeting on September 3, 2016.
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There were 8 potential sites investigated by the ACBC which included the following:

Greenwood Park, Turner Park Site #1, Turner Park Site #2. Wolf Swamp Road Fields, Cordis property/ Library site, Academy Drive (water tower property), Laurel Park and Bliss Park

The following criteria were used for all of these proposed sites:

Deed Restrictions, Article 97 Implications, Infrastructure, Impact on Sports Fields, Historic Implications, Conservation, Neighborhood/ Political

Here is the Greenwood Park analysis from the report:

The current Adult Center is located on this site.  The Adult Center occupies approximately 8,000 sf of the building which is an old school.  Also in the same building is the Longmeadow Parks/ Recreation Day Care Center which serves approximately 56 children as well as the after school program for 60 children. The summer camp (80 children) uses the building, along with pickle ball players, the Longmeadow Parks/ Recreation After School Program, Willie Ross School, CYO basketball, Youth basketball, Adult volleyball and karate.

Additionally the Veteran's Representative, public nurse, Town Food Bank, the Federal Meals Program is all located within the Adult Center wing of the Greenwood Center building. The building is often used by sports teams and other groups in the evenings, averaging 2-3 meetings per week.

There are two baseball fields used daily. There is a playground as well as one of the Town's pools.

Approximately 1,000 sf of the Adult Center wing is hallway, and 500-600 sf is for the bathrooms. This building is located in the very south portion of the town, and is not at a central location in our town. The seniors are "tucked away", and for many the drive to the center from the north end of the town is challenging.
  • Deed Restrictions: Unknown, must be researched 
  • Article 97 Implications: Possible - Should the town decide to construct an addition to the west of the existing building wing, Article 97 could apply. Deed research needs to be done, specifically as it relates to the extension into the park. 
  • Infrastructure: Available 
  • Impact on Sports fields: At least one and possibly both ball fields will be lost 
  • Historic Implications: None 
  • Conservation: No identified issues 
  • Neighborhood/Political: We do believe there is a constituency of people in our town who would not wish the Adult Center to move, as they are accustomed to enjoying recreational services at the existing site.  Many seniors have a high resistance to change, and this will be a challenge to overcome.
Conclusions
Although constructing an addition on the existing building which would require renovating the entire building due to code requirements is feasible (see drawing from the Dietz & Company Architects report below), we believe that the 12 to 18 month disruption of the plethora of services to the town residents would be very difficult. The renovations would require that the Federal Meals on Wheels program be turned over to East Longmeadow, the Day Care Center would have to be moved at CONSIDERABLE expense due to the State requirements (furniture bolted to floors, bathrooms in every room, etc.), the Parks/ Recreation After School program for students moved to other locations, programs for the seniors would have to be halted for lack of space at other locations in town, the CYO Youth basketball, pickle ball, Willie Ross School, etc., would be very problematic and a huge disruption for our residents. The loss of at least one ball field would affect residents.

We also believe that the resulting product (state of the art addition of brand new construction, aside a school designed in the late 60's) would not create an attractive exterior. The costs associated with a move/ termination of much needed services to the most frail in Longmeadow, in combination with the construction of the addition, would at LEAST equal the cost of building a new building elsewhere in the town.
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Here is some earlier developed information for a proposed Renovation of Greenwood Center described in the Dietz & Company Architects Report- January 15, 2016.

Figure 2- Proposed Renovation of Greenwood Center-
Dietz & Company Architects Report- January 15, 2016
(click to enlarge)

Below is a table from the Dietz & Company report comparing Advantages vs. Disadvantages of renovating Greenwood Park Center.

Table 1- Comparison of Advantages vs. Disadvantages
Dietz & Company Architects Report- January 15, 2016
(click to enlarge)
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Bottom Line: Demolishing the current Greenwood Park Center and building a new one or renovating the old building at the same site would result in a desirable outcome.  However, all of the disadvantages highlighted above by two different comprehensive studies strongly suggest that the Greenwood Park site is not a desirable site for the new Adult Center.

Here ares link to some additional information on this subject:
  1. Longmeadow Adult Center: Feasibility Study and Design Study
    Dietz and Co. Architects, Inc. January 15, 2016
  2. Update- Longmeadow Adult Center Feasibility Study,
    LongmeadowBuzz blog post by J.R. Moran, January 28, 2016
Jim Moran