Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Public Forum on Longmeadow's Financial Crisis

On Monday afternoon I attended a public forum at the Longmeadow Adult Center organized by a group of concerned citizens including Roger Wojcik, Jerry Nolet, Joe Ochuitti and Phil Fregeau. There were a total about 40 people in attendance representing many different constituencies in town.... including three School Committee members/ the School Building Committee co-chair, two Select Board members, a Select Board candidate, numerous senior citizens, pro-school / anti-school, former teachers, ..

The message from the forum organizers was as follows:

Longmeadow is in a Fiscal Crisis!

The cost of our Schools, Public Safety and other Town Services is becoming overwhelming.

  • The School Committee is asking us to take on a $46 million mortgage for a new high school.
  • Longmeadow is obligated to pay $28 million in Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) which it does not have.
  • Longmeadow’s buildings, roads and water/sewer systems need over $100 million worth of repairs.
  • Longmeadow’s budget for next year begins to borrow from our last remaining reserve fund.

The organizers were asking for ideas on how the town might make its way through this mine field of future expenses.

The meeting quickly evolved to a “shouting match” debate over the merits and concerns of the proposed $78 million high school building project.

From the prospective of someone who has followed this project and is reasonably knowledgeable about many of the specifics, I found that there was significant misrepresentation and inaccurate information contributed from both sides- particularly with regard to the cost of the new + renovated high school to the average taxpayer.

I have commented in past LongmeadowBuzz postings that the School Building Committee's average tax increase estimate was misleading. A recent summary of the taxpayer cost by Paul Pasterczyk- Longmeadow's Finance Director wherein the annual cost is shown for each of the 25 years of the school project bond is a much better representation. The first full year of project impact in FY14 will increase the average taxpayer's cost by $575 - $700 depending upon prevailing bond interest rates at that time. The average annual increase over 25 years is estimated to be $455 - $516.

Note: These numbers are somewhat high because the project cost to the town is now $44 million vs. the $46.2 million used for Mr. Pasterczyk's analysis.
Here are some words to describe a large portion of the meeting.....
loud, angry, disrespectful, contentious.....,

I attended this public forum as an observer and not as a participant. I have attended numerous public forums in the past on similar subjects, listened to my fellow neighbors share their views and occasionally added my own comments. With most past forums, I have walked away feeling that the public debate was worthy of our great town….

Monday, I walked away very disappointed that our town has been much more polarized than I had thought, that the intensity of debate had risen dramatically and many of the participants were not listening to the other side. Most concerning was outright disrespect for other people’s opinions and ideas.

I can only hope that this forum is not representative of the debate that will occur between today and election day and that both sides will work together to see our way through the current financial crisis. We need compromise on both sides….. One word that did finally emerge at the end of the forum seemed to suggest what is needed for our town to successfully navigate these difficult times….

BALANCE…. I will expand what this word means in future posts.


Elizabeth Baron said...

Let's be clear: this was not a public forum (several audience members were cut-off from speaking or prevented from speaking all-together). This was a platform for Gerry Nolet, Roger Wojcik, Philip Fregeau, and Dave Gustafson to propogate their anti-high school agenda. The so-called concerned citizens/hosts never once put up a suggestion from the audience on ways to move forward in this town if they didn't agree with it. I was there to provide the correct figures regarding the high school financing and advised the assembled group to rely on Paul Pasterzyk's bonding estimates, not Gerry Nolet's. I even offered to provide the same charts posted in the original post here. The misinformation and scare tactics presented by the likes of Nolet and Fregeau are not what this town needs. Voters should be encouraged to participate in a productive, healthy debate of their town government, based on facts and vetted information-not innuendo and rumor. Disappointing indeed. Wake up Longmeadow and pay attention June 8th-seek out the facts,ask questions, and make an informed decision about the high school project. Deception,speculation and the rantings of a fragmented group will not move this town forward.

Tom Fisher said...

If balance was desired, one of the more modest & reasonable construction options would have been chosen. Furthermore, and I don't mean to be snide, but how "green" is it to tear down a usable 55 year old building ?

Anonymous said...

I am a resident of Fairhaven who is in the same crisis as it pertains to the SBC, MSBA and unfortunately local politics. It seems that there is a "sale" to the community that it is cheaper to "throw down" a 40 year old building. We are in the process of creating a "project" for reimbursement. Because of such we have to go by MSBA guidelines which ultimately forces us to consolidate if we want their $ (in reality our sales tax dollars) and use such tactics that we need to "move our children to the 21st century by new model school construction". Perhaps none of these people have ever walked through some of our renovated Ivy League Schools. Our superintendent has coined renovations as "bubble gum and bandaids". Talk about being sold at the expense of our community. Find me research that states it is in the best interest of our children to have a specific square footage for a classroom. We are in the process of consolidating our elementary schools and by doing such will ultimately increase class size, bus 240 students and double our school size. What floors me is that our superintendent, school committee members and parents think this is a good idea. Find research to support that...won't find any. We live in a throw away society.