Friday, May 6, 2016

Another Town Resident Expresses His Concerns About Articles 29-31

This letter was submitted to LongmeadowBuzz by a Longmeadow resident and local attorney to address the potential legality and litigation cost the town will face should the bylaws under consideration in Articles 29-31 be enacted

I would like to correct some of the misinformation in the recent Republican editorial as well as some of the general misinformation regarding the so-called “gun articles” on the Longmeadow Town Warrant. 

All three articles are unnecessary and essentially are a non-solution to a non-problem. To my knowledge, Longmeadow has not had and does not now have any gun crime. Article 29 seeks to ban all firearms from any building owned by the town or on any grounds owned by the town. This article was so poorly drafted that it would prohibit all law enforcement personnel from having a firearm anywhere on town property. It is already illegal to have firearms in schools and this article would ban law-abiding gun owners from bringing any firearm past their own driveway. 

Article 30 requires all owners of firearms to register their firearms with the police department when they renew their firearms license. This is redundant because all firearms are now registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the police have access to that information. This would take valuable police personnel time and valuable town resources to put in place again what is already in place. 

Article 31 would seek to ban “assault weapons” or “large capacity feeding devices”. This law also contains no exemption for law enforcement personnel. The law refers to the Massachusetts definition of an assault weapon. If one is already legal in Massachusetts with either of the two items , why would there now be a need to make either illegal in Longmeadow? 

So anyone outside of Longmeadow could own one but not anyone who resides in Longmeadow.
  • How would that make us safer? 
  • Is Mr. Grant suggesting that Longmeadow residents are inherently more prone to violence than any other resident of the commonwealth?
The implementation of these articles are not only unnecessary and redundant but are very divisive and will be very costly to the Town of Longmeadow. Not only will there be a cost to implement these articles but there will be legal challenges to their implementation which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I would suggest that a better use of town funds would be the creation of programs to help stem the tide of the current opiod epidemic which is harming our young people.   

Thank you,

Gerald B. Berg/ Longmeadow resident

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Another town resident speaks out about Articles 29-31

This letter was submitted to Longmeadow Buzz by Longmeadow resident Mary K. Lewonchukis in reference to the recent letter posted by Alex Grant in the Reminder, and in reference to his previous letters posted in various town publications, as well as his televised appearances.

My biggest reaction to the Reminder letter is one of disgust.  I am disgusted that Mr. Grant is using the tragedy at Sandy Hook to further his poorly drafted and ineffective legislation.  He continually references the Sandy Hook tragedy and the children’s deaths to his proposed Articles, and he is clearly comparing Longmeadow to Newtown.  At the end of this article he then states “…all the “No” vote offers is a shrug of the shoulders and lockdown drills for our kids.”  Well, this letter will address each of the points he makes so that no Longmeadow resident thinks my “No” vote is simply a shrug of my shoulders to the Newtown tragedy.

The first Article drafted by Mr. Grant will not allow a licensed Massachusetts resident to carry a gun in any town building or on any property owned by the town, without facing a fine.  Please be aware that there are already laws prohibiting possession of a firearm in the schools.  This Article has nothing to do with Sandy Hook or Newtown, and would not have prevented that tragedy.  Adam Lanza had some serious mental health issues, and he would have completely disregarded any law that did not allow him to carry.  This Article is drafted to keep law abiding residents from carrying guns – it will have no effect on any person who is unlawfully carrying a gun, or has ill intent.  Criminals and people with mental health issues that intend to do harm just don’t care what the town laws say.  All this does is keep a licensed, trained firearm holder from perhaps stopping a person who intends to do harm.  A much better alternative is to have armed police officers or retired law enforcement present in the schools.  That would have stopped Adam Lanza.

The second Article drafted by Mr. Grant would require any person renewing their state issued gun license to give to the local police department a list of firearms, rifles, or shotguns possessed by the applicant, and require applicants to certify their compliance with an already existing state law that requires their firearms to be secured in a locked container.  This Article would also not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooting in any way.  The firearms located in the Lanza household were already required to be locked, but Adam Lanza had access to the combinations to the safes the guns were stored in.  Every time a firearm is purchased in Massachusetts a background check is performed and the gun is registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Any listing given to a local police department is subject to a Freedom of Information Act request, can be obtained by any newspaper, and can then be published (this was done in Westchester County New York).  This listing gives criminals a blueprint for houses to target to steal firearms and houses to target that do not have any firearms.

The third Article drafted by Mr. Grant would ban all assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices manufactured prior to September 13, 1994 in Longmeadow.  Adam Lanza did not carry out the shooting at Sandy Hook with an assault rifle manufactured prior to September 13, 1994, so this Article would also not prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook.  The first thing that Mr. Grant should clarify is that I cannot purchase an “assault rifle” such as you see in movies used by the military.  I cannot purchase a rifle that is “automatic” – such as an Uzi or machine gun.  I think there is a misconception out in the minds of residents of Longmeadow that gun owners in town have these guns that can shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.   Generally speaking, these guns can be purchased by terrorists or criminals outside of the boundaries of any law, but a law-abiding citizen cannot purchase or possess these guns and magazines.

None of the Articles Mr. Grant proposes would have stopped the violence at Sandy Hook, and I find it extremely offensive that he is using that tragedy to promote his agenda.  I have a child in the Longmeadow school system, and it is my worst nightmare that a mass shooting will occur in Longmeadow.  That is every parent’s nightmare, and Mr. Grant is playing on these fears to get his legislation passed.  Mr. Grant says the “No” votes have no answers to reducing Longmeadow’s risk of mass shootings and ordinary shootings.  He then goes on to cite Virginia Tech, Columbine, and San Bernardino as examples.  Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech could have been prevented with stronger responses and requirements for people with mental health issues, especially those with access to firearms.  San Bernardino was a mass shooting by terrorists – and Mr. Grant is proposing to restrict residents from protecting themselves, their families, and their community against terrorism.  Terrorists have never been concerned with local, state or federal laws, and Mr. Grant’s Articles would most certainly not deter them at all.  Mr. Grant’s third Article would leave our community completely exposed to terrorism at a time when ISIS has indicated increased attacks against the United States. 

The guns are not a problem in Longmeadow, and never have been.  Should these Articles be passed, there is no doubt in my mind that the Town will be sued, either by a resident of Longmeadow, or someone who is passing through the town and is fined for possessing a legally owned firearm.  The town will also face increased costs to enforce these Articles and make the police focus shift from the really important issues faced by the town to enforcement of these non-existing issues.  The town will also lose any lawsuit – and anyone who doubts this only needs to google “McDonald versus City of Chicago”.  This case struck down two restrictive handgun laws in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois.  The Supreme Court of the United States determined that the Second Amendment applies to individual states.  The Supreme Court held that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms applies to the states.  The cost to the City of Chicago was over $3,000,000. 

As residents of Longmeadow, we would be much better off focusing our attention and budget on the things that are really needed in town, such as the DPW project, new middle school funding, or the Senior Center.  I urge all Longmeadow residents to vote no to the Articles proposed by Alex Grant that will do nothing to further protect our town or children, and will be extremely costly to our town. 

Mary K. Lewonchukis
Longmeadow resident

Friday, April 29, 2016

Longmeadow's Proposed Gun Control Bylaws

This opinion/ comment letter was submitted to LongmeadowBuzz by Walter Lamon, a Longmeadow town resident in response to Alex Grant's recent position paper on proposed gun control bylaws at the upcoming Longmeadow Annual Town Meeting on May 10.
It is with sadness that we saw the recent legislation proposed by selectman Grant on firearms which attempts to bring nasty national politics into the otherwise peaceable and largely crime-free town of Longmeadow.

Warrants 29, 30, 31 could only succeed in dragging the citizens of Longmeadow into a long, costly and deeply divisive legal fight with the well-resourced gun lobby that will suck taxpayers’ money away from our schools and harm our community.  All Grant’s proposed legislation succeeds in doing is criminalizing tax-paying citizens and their families in their own town, while drawing deep divisions in a happy and prosperous community.

There has never been a problem with Longmeadow’s gun owners, who already abide by the strictest rules in America under Massachusetts state law, as well as the police chief who has absolute discretion in issuing permits and who maintains a close relationship with all permit holders.

In fact, the warrants are so poorly drafted they even outlaw our police officers - who do an excellent job keeping us safe from some of the urban crime problems nearby -  from carrying service weapons to protect us, let alone introducing confusion. For example, if you return from shooting clays or skeet for example, as between 20 and 40 million Americans do on weekends including President Obama, are you a criminal if you pick up an elderly relative at the Greenwood Center with a shotgun locked in the trunk of your car? Mr Grant will try to make sure that you are.

If Mr Grant was concerned about our residents having firearms why didn’t he simply reach out to his fellow 1000 or so families in town who have permits and start a dialogue on how we can all improve the safety in our schools, protect our children and ensure the town continues to run as it has for decades without problems? In a recent editorial Mr Grant bemoans the paralysis on this issue on a national level while he engages in the same angry politics, trafficking in fear, that causes that deadlock. He has wasted a valuable opportunity to achieve what no national political leader has done: forge a partnership with gun-owning and non-gun owning citizens alike for the better of the community. Many permit holders have small children in the schools here, and many moved here for the crime-free nature of Longmeadow. We feel just as strongly as Mr Grant that the safety of our children is paramount, true of every parent whether you are a gun owner or not. 

But, instead of using that opportunity, he has mounted an aggressive political campaign acting independently of his elected select board role, forgoing the endorsement and advice of the police, while alienating all gun owners who comprise both Democrats and Republicans, business owners, doctors, lawyers, veterans and other members of our community and their families, along with non gun owners appalled at the infringement of their civil liberties.

In a ‘challenge’ to Longmeadow Citizens for Liberty he suggested a debate likened to the Lincoln vs Douglas debates on slavery. But Mr Grant is no crusading leader fighting for social justice instead he’s hijacking the town’s strained budget for his own personal agenda. Long after Mr Grant has left office his toxic legacy to Longmeadow will be to draw our town into a long, rancorous and ever-expensive litigation with groups like the NRA, which taxpayers will underwrite and which the town will lose because of constitutional guarantee and recent Supreme Court cases like District of Colombia vs. Heller.

Don’t fall for it. Reject his self-serving agenda on May 10th so that we can raise our children and work for our families in peace.

Walter Lamon/ Longmeadow Town Resident

Monday, April 18, 2016

Gun Control in Longmeadow

At the Longmeadow Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 10, voters will be asked to consider the following three articles (#29, # 30 and # 31) regarding proposed gun control bylaws in our town. Each of these three articles was submitted via a citizen petition.....

 [click image to enlarge]

Below is an article written by Alex Grant, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board who submitted these articles explaining his position.

It was 39 months ago that I wrote in this space about the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “[t]he issue is nothing less than whether the honored dead in Newtown will die in vain.  Sympathy, prayers, and grief are not enough . . . If the deaths of the Newtown kids do not matter, then we as a country are dead inside too, and God have mercy on us all.”

Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault weapon against children who were between the ages of six and seven.  Thirty-nine months later, they would be turning 10, on their way to adolescence.  The kids who entertained themselves in December 2012 with Dora the Explorer would be reading Harry Potter now, imagining themselves as wizards on their way to Hogwarts boarding school.  There will be no Hogwarts nor any other school for them now.

What if the dead could speak to the living?  What would Charlotte Bacon, then six years old, and Daniel Barden, then seven years old, say to us?  What would Rachel Davino, then 29 years old and devoting her professional life to working with autistic kids, say?  If those once-hopeful souls wanted to believe that their deaths had made a difference, if they had represented some sacrifice toward a greater good, what would we say?

If we were honest, we would have to say that precious little has changed for the better.  Rather than coming together to reduce gun violence, there has been a surge in applications for gun licenses in the United States, in Massachusetts, and in Longmeadow.  In fact, the numbers of Licenses to Carry (LTCs) have increased 25% in Longmeadow since Sandy Hook.  For our kids, all we can offer are more lockdown drills.

On May 10, voters at Town Meeting have a chance to make Longmeadow safer and to advance the debate about gun control beyond paranoia and misinformation.  The three gun control bylaws which I have proposed as citizen petitions represent reasonable regulations that will make mass shootings and ordinary shootings less likely.

One bylaw would strengthen the ban on assault weapons that exists under Massachusetts state law by eliminating the exception for assault weapons that were lawfully possessed in 1994 or before.  Owners of these assault weapons would have until September 1, 2016 to remove them from Longmeadow.  The AR-15 used in the Newtown shootings, which is a semi-automatic rifle capable of shooting 45 rounds per minute, would be illegal in Longmeadow.  The AR-15 is the gun that Lanza chose over a number of other weapons at his disposal.  The weapon left the children not just mortally wounded, but in the words of one parent who saw the remains of her dead child, “butchered.”

Another bylaw would require license holders to provide a description of their guns and to certify their compliance with the state law requiring safe storage of firearms when they obtain or renew their licenses.  This occurs every six years, and it is less onerous than our annual registration for dogs.  With this information, police will better be able to keep track of lost, stolen, or transferred firearms.  Moreover, they will know what kind of arsenal they are facing when they respond to emergency calls at a home.  Finally, the certification will remind and reinforce the obligation gun owners have under state law for keeping their guns under lock and key.  This will help to prevent accidental shootings and access to guns by children.

The third bylaw would bar guns from town buildings and town-owned property, much like state law already prohibits guns from schools and universities.  The bylaw would protect places like Greenwood Center, which houses a daycare facility for infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers, as well as programs for the elderly.  It would keep guns away from the Green on Longmeadow Days and away from youth soccer games in places like Wolf Swamp fields.  It would not apply to sidewalks where residents own the land and the town only has a right of way.

When we truly care about keeping a public place safe, guns are in the hands of trained police and military officers and nobody else.  At airports and courthouses, guns are not allowed because we know that is the best way to keep those places safe.  In those places, we do not imagine that having some percentage of the public armed is a way to thwart bad guys with guns. Gun owners may make the individual choice to possess guns in the event they want to use them to defend their homes.   But as taxpayers who own and maintain town buildings and town property, it is our collective choice on how to secure these places.  And why shouldn’t we strive to make Greenwood Center as safe as a courthouse?

These bylaws are not a complete solution to gun violence in America.  The debate over gun control is paralyzed at the national level and even at the state level.  But in a Town Meeting form of government, we are not helpless, we are legislators, and we are called, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, to “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  In this time and place, we can make the next mass shooting, the next accidental shooting, the next suicide less likely, and we can serve as an example for other towns which want to do the same.

Alex J. Grant is a member of the Longmeadow Select Board.
His email address is

Monday, March 28, 2016

Article 32- Save Wolf Swamp Fields

The possible selection of a portion of Wolf Swamp Road Fields as the site for the construction and operation of the new DPW facility has precipitated a large outcry from many town residents.  The following warrant article (by citizen petition) has been approved and added to the May 10 Annual Town Meeting for consideration by voters:

[click to enlarge]   
The 2016 Annual Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in the gymnasium of Longmeadow High School starting at 7 PM.

For additional information visit the Save Wolf Swamp Fields Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Caring about Kindergarten

This article about support for all day free kindergarten was written by Longmeadow town resident Betsy Port and is posted here for reading by LongmeadowBuzz blog readers...

What do you remember about kindergarten? I can recall a lot! My best friend and I met in Miss Bixby’s class over fifty years ago in Public School #8 in Yonkers, New York. We are still close friends, both living in Massachusetts. We learned our letters and our numbers. We played with blocks and read books. Teachers taught us to share and to care. We learned to clean up and we took a nap on our mats. As a substitute assistant teacher at the kindergarten level at both Blueberry Hill and Center Schools, half a century later, I know how much has changed in the world of a 5-6 year old! We need to create a firm foundation for all children, and that should be our priority!

We now have national common core requirements. There is no more naptime because there is so much to accomplish. You might call the free time similar to play time of decades ago, but most of the time is devoted to learning, doing and work. Over 90% of Massachusetts children attend full day kindergarten and 85% attend for no additional cost to their parents. Longmeadow is a follower not a leader on this topic. We are the only Western Massachusetts community not to offer funded full time kindergarten to all kids. Why? Children are happier and healthier with full day kindergarten according to the NEA, National Educational Association. The benefits are intellectual, social and emotional. The NEA also states on their website that there is $3 saved long term for every $1 spent on full day kindergarten.

Does Longmeadow really have a choice on this subject? Studies show that most communities nationwide do offer full day kindergarten. Remember this is 2016… and your children and grandchildren will deal with a very different world than we did when we were school age. We need to fund this and we need it now! Habits and learning tools need to start young! Problems can be identified sooner in the full day situation and we can correct issues that need attention. This early intervention will save money down the road. Children who do not attend full day kindergarten will fall behind meeting the standards set by common core. Many teachers will agree! There is also a national trend to fund public nursery schools, so that is the direction we are headed towards.

How can you help?

A decision will be made at the Select Board Meeting on Thursday, March 17 at the High School from 7-9 PM in room A15.

Get vocal! Stand up for the children of this community. Do we want Longmeadow to be a leader in public education? I think we would agree that the answer is yes!

Betsy Port
Longmeadow, MA

Monday, February 8, 2016

Mark Gold Announces Re-election Bid

With a commitment to continue to serve Longmeadow residents and bring balance to the select Board, I am announcing that I am seeking reelection to the Longmeadow Select Board for a three year term.  Over the next three years the town of Longmeadow will face important issues that include tax rates, water rates, and decisions on major capital projects, and I believe I have the experience, understanding and common sense approach to positively contribute to the resolution of these issues.

Since being elected to the Select Board I have demonstrated my commitment to serve the town.  I have advocated for maintaining the level of town services that Longmeadow residents have come to expect and holding the line on residential property taxes.  I have taken a leadership role in setting the financial plan for Longmeadow, being particularly proud that the Select Board has presented the town with balanced budgets during each of my years on the Select Board.   This fiscal control was the result of planning by the select board that maintained the level of town services residents have come to expect.  I have been instrumental in several achievements that will have a positive lasting impact on the town, including securing trash hauling contracts that have saved the town tens of thousands of dollars, and defining the surrounding community mitigation settlement with MGM.

Through my background as an engineer and my experience on the Select Board I have demonstrated an understanding for the programs and systems of the town and my ability to lead the discussion about each of the issues that the Select Board faces.

My wife Ellen and I raised two children who attended Longmeadow public schools and I believe that our 39 years of living in Longmeadow has given me a strong sense of the issues, sensitivities, and characteristics of the town that residents of Longmeadow care most about.

I am honored to have been elected to the Select Board by the residents of Longmeadow over the past seven years.  I hope that the level judgement and balanced approach to addressing the town’s issues that I have demonstrated resonates with town residents and I ask for their votes this year so I can continue to advocate for the greatest good for all the residents of the town.

Mark Gold
Member, Longmeadow Select Board

Challenging Times Ahead for Longmeadow- Part II

The Full Cost of Education in Longmeadow

Almost $10 million of school related expenses are not included in the School Department's annual budget but are instead combined with town related budget line items.  Some of these expenses include school department employee/ retiree benefits (health insurance/Medicare, pensions, etc.) that can increase significantly from year to year and which must be covered on the Town side of the budget.

Here is the rest of the story....

Mid-February is the time of the year that the School Committee approves and then submits a School Department budget to the Town Manager.  The TM is responsible for creating the Town Budget which is then approved by the Select Board to be voted on at the Annual Town Meeting in early May.

Given ever increasing costs and limited increases in town revenue, this process can be difficult.  This year the School Committee is considering three budget options as shown below in order to begin a transition to all day FREE kindergarten which is the state is likely to mandate sometime in the near future.
  • Tier I includes FREE full day kindergarten; requires an additional $277,144 in general fund revenues or cuts will need to be made.
  • Tier II includes a full day kindergarten fee of $1,250; requires an additional $155,645 in general fund revenues or cuts will need to be made.
  • Tier III includes a full day kindergarten fee of $2,000; requires an additional $61,895 in general fund revenues or cuts will need to be made.
Before deciding which Tier should be chosen, it is useful to consider how the budget is constructed.  The data used for this example is the current FY2016 budget as it was approved at the Annual Town Meeting last May.  It should be noted that the budget numbers change continuously and are not finalized until the fiscal year is over.

Revenue Sources
There are many different sources of income for the town including property taxes, Chapter 70 state aid, water and sewer fees, etc.  Table I below shows the sources and amounts of money used to fund the FY2016 budget.  Water and sewer are treated as "free standing" Enterprise Funds meaning the fees collected cover the cost of operations including capital projects.

Table I- FY2016/ ATM Sources of Income
[click to enlarge]

Note that the Total Sources increase from FY15 --> FY 16 was only $506,000 or 1.3%.  Increase in Property Taxes was 2.8% or $1.28 million.  Increases in Property Taxes are controlled by Proposition 2½ limitations.

In Table II below is a summary of all of various expenses (or uses) for the Town of Longmeadow.

Table II- Uses Summary- FY2016
[click to enlarge]
It is interesting to note that the School Department budget as presented at the Annual Town Meeting does not include expenses such as employee/ retiree health care and pension benefits, school maintenance, school crossing guards or debt service (interest + principal on outstanding bonds for school building projects).

There was a significant increase in the cost of providing health care/ retiree benefits for school department (and town) employees from FY2015 to FY2016.  For school department employees this cost increase was $292K which is a significant amount relative to the increase in annual revenue for the town.

At the 2015 Annual Town Meeting the School Department FY2016 budget was presented as $35.3 million.  With the additional school department related expenses included, this number increases to $44.9 million, an increase of $9.6 million or 69% of the total town budget.

With 2882 students attending Longmeadow schools in FY2016, the cost of educating our children is ~$15,600/year.

When asking the Select Board (and taxpayers) for additional money to support new programs, the School Committee should consider the impact of other school department related budget increases that are being covered in the Town side of the budget.

There is a Public Hearing on the FY2017 Budget being held by the Longmeadow School Committee on February 9 starting at 7 PM in Room A15 at Longmeadow High School.  

Here is a link to the FY2017 School Department Budget presentation by School Superintendent Marie Doyle to the School Committee on February 1.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Challenging Times Ahead for Longmeadow- Part I

Longmeadow Property Taxes- Part I

You have probably just finished paying your FY2016/2Q real estate tax bill which was due earlier this week.

It is interesting to look at Longmeadow property taxes since 2000 and project what level they may reach in 2020.

Emerging budget issues include funding of "free" (or reduced) tuition" for all day kindergarten as well as three major capital projects (new DPW facility, renovated or new Senior Center and new middle schools).  There is also a looming financial crisis related to taxation limits by Proposition 2½ that may occur as soon as FY2020.   Therefore, it is useful to consider their impact on future Longmeadow property taxes.

In this first LongmeadowBuzz post- Longmeadow Property Taxes- Part I, the discussion will be limited and not include the impact of the three large capital projects under consideration. In Parts II and III, the impact of each of these major capital projects will incrementally be added to the base case.

In Figure 1 below there is a chart of Longmeadow property taxes since 2000 which have increased at an average annual rate of 4.2%.  This annual change is significantly higher than the average annual change in CPI over this same time period (+2.2%/year).  Proposition 2½ limits annual property tax increases to ~ 2.5% but five different Proposition 2½ overrides (see table in the right side of chart in Figure 1 below) are the primary reasons for the average increase to exceed that limit.

Figure 1- Longmeadow Property Taxes

[click to enlarge]
[Note: The information used to create all of these charts was obtained from the Massachusetts DOR website.]

The mean or average Longmeadow tax bill in FY2016 is $7977 (corresponding to a mean property value of $327,848).  This mean (or average) tax bill is a bit misleading because of the wide range of property values in Longmeadow.  The range of Longmeadow single family FY2016 property tax bills for almost 5500 properties is from $3100 to $42,800.

A more useful statistic is the median (50% are lower, 50% are higher) tax bill.  With a FY2016 median property value of  $285,100 (x $24.33/$1000), the FY2016 median tax bill is $6936.

Tax Rate vs. Property Taxes
Recently, local media reported that Longmeadow is ranked #1 with the highest TAX RATE (mil rate) in the state (see Table I below).  All of the towns ranked in the top 10 with the exception of Ashburnham are located in the central/ western part of our state.
East Longmeadow is ranked #11.

Table I- Tax Rates- Massachusetts Cities and Towns
[click to enlarge]
However, PROPERTY TAXES (FY2016) in Longmeadow are ranked #41 out of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts (see Table II below). Not surprising...all of the cities and towns with higher taxes are located in the eastern part of our state.

Table II- Property Taxes- Massachusetts Cities and Towns
[click to enlarge]
Are there any issues related to Longmeadow's high tax rate?

Proposition 2½ was passed into law in 1980.  It imposes a levy limit which is usually ~ 2.5% maximum increase in property taxes per year with unused amounts that can be "banked" and used in subsequent years.

There is also another important aspect of this Proposition 2½ law that may affect Longmeadow property taxes in FY2020.  It involves the levy ceiling which provides that the maximum amount of property taxes that can be charged to property owners in a given year is 2.5% of the total property value or a maximum mil rate of $25/$1000 of property value.  Debt exclusion overrides for major capital projects such as Longmeadow High School are not counted in this levy ceiling.

Assessed property values for Longmeadow vs. the surrounding communities have shown a flat to lower average assessed value for the past 10 years (see Figure 2 below).  Average state assessed values have increased somewhat in the past two years.  With flat to lower assessed property values, the levy ceiling will be reached faster than if the assessed property values were increasing each year.

Figure 2- Assessed Property Values- Longmeadow vs. East Longmeadow et al

In Figure 1 there is a line entitled "discounted mil rate" (does not included debt excluded overrrides) which is this levy ceiling.  If property values remain stable and there are no Proposition 2½ Operational Overrides (these increases are not discounted), Longmeadow will likely reach the maximum $25/$1000 mil rate in FY2020 and we will no longer be able to increase taxes.  At that time without increases in assessed property values or a change in Mass General Law, Longmeadow will need to make major changes in how we meet our town budget revenue needs including charging fees for various services including trash collection, etc.  In addition, in order to meet a balanced budget and contractual salary increases, town/ school staff and/or services will likely need to be cut drastically.

Our Select Board should engage in discussions with Rep. Brian Ashe and Senator Eric Lesser to see if this levy ceiling restriction in the Proposition 2½ law can be increased or eliminated to help Longmeadow (and other communities with high mil rates) avoid the potential budget crisis that we will be facing in FY2020.

Reaching this levy ceiling will not be a pretty scenario for our town!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Update- Longmeadow Adult Center Feasibility and Design Study

Lots of progress on this project.  It is time to form a Select Board Committee to oversee the efforts toward renovation and/ or construction of a new Longmeadow Adult Center.

At the May 2014 Annual Town Meeting, Article #30- (by citizen petition) was approved requesting $35,000 for a feasibility study of options to provide suitable space and facilities for the Longmeadow Council on Aging Center. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission was engaged to begin the study and submitted results at a cost of approximately $10,000.   An analysis of new building vs. renovation of existing building was completed. 

At the May 2015 Annual Town Meeting Article #24 (by citizen petition) was approved "to engage an architect and/or engineer to do further cost analysis of 2 sites for the purpose of identifying a recommended location to house truly suitable space and suitable facility for the Longmeadow Adult Community Center".

Most recent efforts have been under the auspices of a Town Manager "Task Force" which has functioned in much the same manner as the recent TM Task Force for the new DPW Facility.  While meetings are open to the public, TM Task Force groups are not required to post meeting notices/ agendas, minutes or any updates of their efforts.

On Monday, I was visiting the Adult Center and discovered that this TM Task Force was meeting and decided to attend (meetings are open to the public).  At this meeting there were two representatives in attendance from Dietz & Company Architects, Inc.- a prominent architectural firm involved with construction of many senior citizen facilities who discussed the details of their recently issued report (Longmeadow Adult Center: Feasibility Study and Design Study) considering 4 different sites (expansion + renovation of Greenwood Center + a new facility at three different locations in Turner Park).

Below are site drawings showing each of the four options:
Greenwood Park Option [click image to enlarge]

Turner Park- Option #1 [click image to enlarge]
Turner Park- Option #2 [click image to enlarge]
Turner Park- Option #3 [click image to enlarge]

Floor plans for the Greenwood Park renovation + expansion proposal vs. the three identical Turner Park proposed facilities in different locations are shown below:
Greenwood Park Renovation + Expansion [click drawing to enlarge]

Turner Park Facility [click drawing to enlarge]

Below are the comparative costs that have been developed by Dietz & Company Architects, Inc. 

It should be highlighted that the Greenwood Center renovation + expansion cost estimate includes upgrades of portions of the existing building that are not part of current or proposed Adult Center.  These upgrades including electrical, handicap access, etc. would be required by the state of Massachusetts.

It should also be pointed out that the cost estimates shown in the table below are not total project costs since they do not include FFE (furnishings, fixtures and equipment) or any "soft" costs such as permitting, etc.  It appears likely that all-inclusive costs for each of the four proposals will exceed $10 million.

Comparative Costs [click table to enlarge]
This project has certainly emerged from a concept stage to one that should be placed on the agenda for future capital expenditures side-by-side with the new DPW facility and the new/ renovated middle schools. 

There are certainly challenges ahead for each of the proposed options. 

Therefore, it is time for this Town Manager Task Force to be changed to a Select Board Committee to allow town residents to become better informed and to weigh in about the timetable, options and cost of this much needed facility upgrade.