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.