Friday, December 21, 2012

Is America Great?

In case you missed it, here is Alex Grant's article Is America Great? that appeared in the December 20th edition of the Longmeadow News (with permission of the author and thanks to the Longmeadow News). It reflects sentiments that many of us have after last week's tragedy.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, I am beginning to wonder, for the first time in my life, whether America can be a great country.  In my lifespan, we have endured the tragedy of Vietnam, the shame of Watergate, the prospect of nuclear annihilation by the Soviet Union, the shock of the 9/11 attacks, and three wars in the Middle East.  Through it all, I have remained steadfast that we are, as our Puritan forebear John Winthrop said, a "city upon a hill."  I have read the story of our nation as the history of a people called to a higher purpose, as expressed in the Mayflower Compact, the Constitution, and in our current form of government.

American courage and ingenuity, displayed for generations, from the War of Independence to World War II to the Cold War, have been placed in service to the rest of the world and to ourselves.  I have always thought that the arc of our history bends upward, and it lends credence to the idea of the perfectibility of mankind.  I question all of that now.

Whatever aspirations we may have for shared prosperity, the health and happiness of our people, or even social justice, none of them matter so long as small children can be slaughtered en masse and so long as the survivors and the rest of society must live in apprehension, and with the knowledge, that such a mass killing will happen again.  When the Declaration of Independence said that we are all endowed with the unalienable rights to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," it was no mistake that "Life" came first.

Life is first because everything else flows from it.  The society we hope to build in the coming years, however much we succeed in our aims, will be of no use to the Newtown children lying in the morgue.  Freedom and material prosperity count for nothing to the dead.  If we cannot provide peace and security in our cities, towns, and in our schools, if we cannot protect our young children, then we, as a people, are a disgrace.  We are a disgrace to ourselves and to our proud history.  If we cannot secure the lives of children whom we hold most dear, we are not a beacon to the world, we are a failure, and we deserve the condemnation of countries around the globe.

In decades past, we have faced mighty challenges from without, forces bent on our destruction.  We have been bloodied but not beaten.  The problem of gun violence, however, is one of our own making, and being within our control, it ought to be susceptible to solution.  But the list of mass killings has grown, they have become more frequent, and we remain paralyzed.  Places like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora emerge from obscurity and now live in infamy, and somehow, nothing changes.

The question now is whether Newtown will be simply added to the list, or whether Americans will act, and act now, to prevent their children from being massacred.  If we do not act now, we will never act.  And while our children have, for years, been killed one by one, in incidents so commonplace that the newspapers often do not even notice, the choice of whether to live in fear, or to do something about it, has never been so clear. 

Are we so enured to gun violence, are our hearts so hardened, that even this will not awaken our consciences?  In 1929, the murder of seven Chicago mob associates on Valentine's Day was enough to spark public outrage, and that outrage led to the downfall of Al Capone, whose organization carried out the killings.  There was a time when we cared, when we refused to live amid anarchy and killing.  We have to care enough now to change, to change our hearts and our ways, to make it so that Newtown will never happen again and children will not have to live in fear.

That is the great task before us.  We have before faced and overcome greater tasks, but we cannot doubt that this is a moment of reckoning for our country.  The issue is nothing less than whether the honored dead in Newtown will die in vain.  Sympathy, prayers, and grief are not enough.  Killings like these must stop.  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.

Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow.  
His email address is

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Longmeadow Property Taxes Through 2020- An Update

Now that the Longmeadow FY2013 property tax rate (or mil rate) has been set at $21.54 for FY2013, it is time for an update of my projections through 2020. See Longmeadow Buzz post for predictions made earlier this year.

These latest projections include future effects on property taxes for all of the outstanding capital projects (Proposition 2½ debt exclusions) that have been approved by Longmeadow taxpayers. They include the impact of bonds for the new LHS project + the annual 2½% increase as allowed by Proposition 2½. Property taxes for FY2014 --> FY2020 are based upon an average property assessment of $341,800 which is 3.1% lower than last year's average assessment of 352,600

[click chart to enlarge]

FY2013 property taxes for the average Longmeadow property owner will increase to $7362 a 6.1% increase from FY2012- following a 5.8% increase in FY2012 from F2011.

Of the $781 increase in property taxes experienced for FY2012 + FY2013, ~$473 (or 60.5%) can be attributed to the new high school project which is close to that estimated by the School Building Committee before the project was approved by voters.

According to the Longmeadow Assessors Office, updated property assessments for FY2013 will be available on the Vision Appraisal website later this month ~ December 11.  A Longmeadow property owner can calculate his FY2013 taxes as follows:
It is important to note that the FY2013 1Q (August 1) /2Q (November 1) property tax payments which have already been paid reflect estimated taxes and the upcoming February 1 (3Q) and May 1 (4Q) payments will be adjusted to reflect the new mil rate and property assessments.   While most taxpayers will see an increase in FY2013 property taxes, there will be some Longmeadow taxpayers who will see no change or even a decrease depending upon the new FY2013 property asssessments.

The above estimates do not include the Community Preservation Act charge (currently 1% surcharge) that is included with these tax bills. For the average property owner this amounts to ~ $74/year.

Projections of Longmeadow property taxes through 2020 shown in the above graph assume that there will be no Proposition 2½ overides (Operational or Debt Exclusion).  Given that there are infrastructure improvements already being discussed by the School Committee (upgrade of middle schools) and Select Board (new DPW facilities, road repairs) and significant pressure on operating budgets (e.g., salaries), it is likely that the actual increases in future property taxes will be higher than that predicted due to one or more Propositionoverrides before 2020.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Police Officer Out at LHS

In the November 11 edition of the Sunday Repubican there was an article entitled Pharm parties leading some Western Massachusetts teens to misuse of prescription drugs suggesting drug use amongst teenagers is still a problem in western Massachusetts. It would seem logicial that the presence of a police officer at the high school might help avoid the tragic stories that are described in this article.

The article below entitled Police Officer Out at LHS written by Alex Grant appeared in the November 8, 2012 edition of the Longmeadow News and is reprinted here with permisssion of the author and thanks to the Longmeadow News.

Last month's decision by the School Committee to remove the police officer stationed in Longmeadow High School showed two things, neither of them reflecting well on that committee.  It revealed an air of Longmeadow exceptionalism, a confidence borne of the naive belief that the problems affecting other cities and towns do not exist here.  Secondly, it laid bare the school vs. town divisiveness which so many town politicians disclaim in theory and practice in fact.

The LHS principal was on record as saying that he wanted the police officer to remain in the school.  In addition to promoting the safety and security of the school, the officer had been used in the health curriculum and to help teach forensics.  But Superintendent Marie Doyle damned the police officer, known as the school resource officer (SRO), with faint praise by saying that while she would love to retain the officer if she "had all the money in the world," the position simply was not a priority in light of all the other areas she valued more.

The School Committee debate focused on the fact that retaining the officer would "cost" the school budget $32,500 in the future, whereas now the officer is carried on the town-side budget.  To the taxpayer, it matters not a whit how the SRO is situated in the budget's line items.  For the School Committee, it mattered a great deal.  If the officer was a freebie, at least from their perspective, the majority of the members were fine with the expense.  If it cost them something from "their" budget, well, that was another matter altogether.

For years, we voters have heard the mantra, "It's one town!" from our town leaders.  But the SRO debate showed how narrowly the School Committee can look at the allocation between town and school services.  If the SRO position was worthy when it was carried entirely on the police budget, then it is worthy if it is carried partly on the schools budget.  It should not matter if it's all one town.  How many times have we heard School Committee members declare their fealty to fiscal rectitude and to looking at the needs of the whole town, and not just the school system?  When parochial budget concerns trump good policy, the "one town" rhetoric looks pretty empty.

The decision to axe the police officer could be chalked up to narrow-minded bean counting until one realizes that the school budget is over $30 million.  The cost of the police officer, which will be borne by the taxpayer in any event, was about one tenth of one percent of the total budget.  Yes, the School Committee was debating an item that was one one-thousandth of the school budget.  Mathematically, it's like the difference between batting .325 or .326 over the course of a major league season.

Undergirding the hand wringing over the placement of this salary in the overall town budget was a belief that Longmeadow High School just does not need the presence of a police officer.  John Fitzgerald said there had been no police officer in his 33 years at LHS.  The Superintendent said that a survey showed that nearly 90 percent of the students feel safe at the school. 

When East Longmeadow instituted its school resource officer program in 2006, it did so "in light of the violence that has plagued school systems throughout the country."  In 2011, when East Longmeadow began an initiative to combat underage drinking, it was spearheaded by its SRO.  Of the SRO, it was said, "Don Cavanaugh has his ear to the ground constantly. He has his finger on the pulse of the schools and we're able to head off some of these problems at the pass."

In 2010, the Ludlow school department happily paid for half the cost of a police officer.  The Ludlow School Superintendent said that the state anti-bullying law created "a tremendous need" for a school resource officer.  "We're not staffed for this," he said.

This Spring, after a Minnechaug student went public with concerns about lax drug enforcement at the high school, the Hampden-Wilbraham Superintendent said that the school resource officers at both the middle and high schools were valuable in keeping drugs out of the hands of kids.  He said, the officers "help us ensure that all reports are investigated and acted upon in accordance with state and local statutes."

So, if underage drinking, bullying, and drugs are problems in East Longmeadow, Ludlow, Hampden, and Wilbraham, surely Longmeadow is affected too.  Or is our little burb so different from the rest, so much better, so much more privileged and enlightened that we do not need a police officer in LHS?  Just recently, Longmeadow instituted an anti-bullying policy that contemplates the involvement of the school resource officer.  State law requires schools to investigate bullying complaints.  Perhaps the School Committee figures bullying has been eradicated, or that it never existed in Longmeadow.

This attitude reminds me of a recent Town Meeting when there was a proposal to impose a modest fine on those engaged in the public smoking of marijuana, a bylaw that Amherst, of all places, had passed.  The members of the Longmeadow School Committee then in office voted against it, and not coincidentally, the measure was defeated.  It was as if this problem were so far removed from the concerns of Longmeadow that it could be laughed away.

In Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."  That hubris, when applied to a fictional town, is a source of humor.  Hubris, in a real town with real kids, can lead to tragedy.  If a serious bullying incident comes to light, or if drinking or drugs at LHS comes to light, the School Committee will rue the day it sent the police officer away.

Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow.  His email address is

Friday, September 21, 2012

Changes at The Longmeadow Shops

We are lucky to have several new food establishments at The Longmeadow Shops.  Since Max Burger and Peachwave opened over the summer, there have been many more cars in the parking lot. I have never seen it so full! The place is especially crowded on Thursdays when the Farmer’s Market is open near the old Friendly’s location. The shopping area was designed long ago and it is not easy to maneuver trucks and SUVs into and out of the tight spots.  It is obviously tricky in front of Starbucks, as people get dropped off to go inside for a quick drink.

On a recent sunny September day, we sat at a table outside The Semolina Bread Company, enjoying a delicious lunch.  As we ate our wrap sandwiches, we noticed the increased congestion right away.  We counted several Connecticut cars parked near us.  I always thought the parking area was awkwardly designed; and we witnessed some bizarre traffic patterns.  Some cars were making U-turns to find spots.  Bad parking jobs were pretty typical, with people sitting in handicapped spots or double-parking near CVS.  The time has come to re-design the placement of the parking spots. It is especially complicated near the entrance to Max Burger where people drive close to the sidewalk and outdoor patio.  A speeding car could be dangerous and perhaps we need a deeper pedestrian sidewalk.

It’s almost impossible for the elderly to get into and out of the shopping area as they walk to their cars.  I also noticed people glued to cell phones and texting while walking in the lot; oblivious to the cars passing around them.  Drivers can become more aware as they enter and exit Longmeadow’s prime shopping destination, and we all can avoid talking on our phones as we park. Remember, these new restaurants are bringing in much needed business and the parking will only get worse when the winter snow piles accumulate.

Let’s welcome the changes in traffic flow and keep the place safe at the same time! I hope the management can place traffic signs within the parking area to guide the flow of vehicles, walkers and bikers.

submitted by Betsy Port

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Roadmap to a Better Town Website

The Longmeadow Select Board met last Monday night (August 6) to discuss the town website and how to improve it.  As I mentioned in an earlier Buzz post I planned to present my website recommendations to the Select Board during public comments.  Here is a copy of the email that I sent to Paul Santaniello outlining my recommendations.

Below is a short video clip (courtesy of LCTV) of my remarks during public comments....

At this Select Board meeting the first agenda item was the town website status during which Kevin Warenda, IT Director for the Town of Longmeadow discussed options for the town to consider.  Below is a shortened video version of this discussion (courtesy of LCTV):

At the end of the discussion, Mr. Warenda provided some guidance for the Select Board to use as it moves forward to improve the website.  He believes that the Select Board should not be actively involved with the operation of the town website and that it should become the prime responsibility of the Town Manager and town departments.

Below is a brief video clip (courtesy of LCTV) of his remarks:

To summarize, it would appear that "content" is being added to the town website on a regular basis but the information is not being managed very well.  The town website uses the Word Press "content management system" which provides for a robust operation.

While the Select Board did not formally develop and approve a plan forward for the town website, key "takeaways" that I heard during this discussion included:
  1. The Word Press CMS system should be continued as the platform for the town website.
  2. There is a need for a person to be appointed with responsibility for the daily operation of the website.  This person will also ensure that the information from each department is posted in a timely manner and that the homepage reflects the most current information for town residents.
  3. The Select Board should not continue their active involvement in the organization/ administration of the town website.  Website operation and performance should be a key goal for the new Town Manager and department heads.
  4. Links to community and business organizations should be considered for inclusion on the town website.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Longmeadow Flooding Problems

Our town continues to deal with significant water and sewer (storm + sanitary) related issues on a regular basis.  In many cases the problems are caused by aging or overloaded infrastructure.  Cost estimates to fully repair the system were recently quoted by Mike Wrabel (DPW Director) at last week's Select Board meeting at $150 million (see MassLive article).  The financial impact of this infrastructure repair was discussed during the High School Building Project but was dismissed as not having a high priority by the school project advocates.

I strongly disagree.

It's interesting to note that many of the sewer/ water related problems around town are not discussed broadly and only if a major water main break or other infrastructure problem occurs that causes inconvenience to many town residents do people become broadly aware of the situation. Sometimes a water damage/ restoration service vehicle + a dumpster in a driveway are the only clues that one of your neighbors has had such a problem.

While Mr. Wrabel may claim that sewer backup problems for individual home owners do not occur very frequently, a number of my neighbors (4) can share some of the horror stories that have happened to them in the last couple of years.  Consider returning home from vacation and finding 18-24" of sewage sludge in your basement due to a backup in the sanitary sewer in the street. All four of my neighbors can relate to that experience.

At Monday's SB meeting, two of my other neighbors (Jerry and Jacqui Wise) shared their experience with a repeating horror story that has strongly affected their quality of life and pocketbook.

Below is a video clip of comments made by the Wises and their next door neighbor- Michael Scheer at Monday's SB meeting:

One interesting comment made by Mr. Wise is that this specific flooding problem had never been an issue on the street until after the Wolf Swamp Road School renovation project was completed (2003).  The Wises have lived in their home since 1996.  Neighbors across the street who are original property owners (1972) have stated that problem never occurred prior to 2005.  

Questions: Was the additional building rain runoff from Wolf Swamp Road school diverted into the Brookwood Drive storm sewer system?

Because the three incidents are considered flooding, none of the damage or possible remedial actions were covered by homeowner's insurance.

Here is a link to the formal letter with additional details that was presented by Mr./Mrs. Wise to the Longmeadow SB. It's also interesting that this specific flooding problem has not been discussed at a previous SB meeting even though the DPW has been involved since 2005.

Let's hope that this "quality of life" issue as well as financial burden for the Wises is resolved by the Town of Longmeadow.   

The Longmeadow Buzz will keep you updated.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It’s Time to Fix the Town Website

It’s now been two years since I was fired by the Longmeadow Select Board as the “Town Webmaster” after 13 years of volunteer service.  This termination spearheaded by former SB member Rob Aseltine and supported by former SB members Christine Swanson and Bobby Barkett precipitated a significant deterioration of the usefulness of the “official” town website- during the past two years.  In today’s information age Longmeadow deserves better… it’s time to fix the town website.

At the July 2 meeting earlier this month Paul Santaniello, the new SB chairman, included the town website as a meeting agenda item.  Mr. Santaniello provided some background information for new SB members (Ms. Angelides, Mr. Barowsky and Mr. Foster) and highlighted that two years ago the town website was fully functional, user friendly and updated on a regular basis. Now it is much less functional and less informative. 

Mr. Santaniello who was a member of the Select Board at the time and who voted against my termination, stated at this July 2 meeting that the firing was directly related to a blog post (Mr. Moran’s personal blog/ opinion) that was connected via a link from the town website.  Rather than simply removing the “problem” link, it was decided by the majority of the SB members to fire the “volunteer” webmaster.

Thank you Paul for setting the record straight once again.  See the short LCTV video clip below for this part of the SB meeting discussion.

After two years of various failed attempts by the SB to create an effective website, there is now a discussion to hire a college student, an intern or an outside company to resolve the day-to-day management void as well as website design deficiencies.  The current approach using a combination of town department heads and other town employees to provide timely updates has not worked very well.  Kevin Warenda, Longmeadow’s IT Director has publicly stated that he sees no role for his department in supporting the day-to-day operations and the regular updating of the website.   From my experience it is likely to cost the town at least $20-30K/year to redesign and maintain an effective website.  In the past I have written a number of Buzz blog posts related to this subject.

Watch the LCTV video below to view the full SB discussion that took place on July 2.  You will find that it was very similar to others that have taken place over the past two years on this subject with SB members not knowing how to resolve the problem.

Since my firing as town webmaster, I have continued to develop the connections between town government, schools, Storrs Library, town residents, organizations and local businesses by providing new and improved Internet resources.  These include: – A relatively new website (2010) for town residents with no business advertising.  Free website design and maintenance are offered to many town organizations including Longmeadow Historical Society, Longmeadow Newcomers Club, Longmeadow Gardeners on the Green, etc. – Connects local businesses and town residents. Business advertising and derived income from this website supports all LongmeadowBiz enterprises. - a Facebook fan page for the town of Longmeadow where people can share information, opinions and ideas.  This Facebook fan page is constantly monitored for abusive behavior, but that has not been a problem.  The towns of Enfield, CT and East Longmeadow, MA effectively used their Facebook presence for two-way communication with town residents during the storm crisis last October.  Longmeadow should have a Facebook page for such emergencies.

People who are familiar with my efforts as the Town Webmaster
(1997 - 2010) as well as my LongmeadowBiz, LLC business activities (2004 - present) know that I have always used LongmeadowBiz web resources for the benefit of our town.  Below is a LCTV video (2011) interview that provides an overview of how it all comes together.

While I have no interest in returning to my role as the “town webmaster” I would like to propose that the Select Board consider integrating the existing LongmeadowBiz Internet resources into the town website.

Below is a proposed change in appearance for the town website to allow easy navigation by town residents.
[click image to enlarge]
  • Addition of these visible links will allow town residents to get quick access to the Longmeadow Community Bulletin Board and a wealth of other timely information and services that do not currently exist (or are not easily found) on the official town website.
  • Posting of board/ committee meeting minutes and other less timely documents to should continue as currently managed by town employees.
  • This proposal separates the Select Board from the difficult and time consuming task of making individual decisions regarding whether or not links to local organizations and other external resources can be added to the town website.  These links will be reviewed and managed by LongmeadowBiz.
  • If at some future time, the Select Board decides for some reason to terminate this proposed relationship with LongmeadowBiz, it can be done very easily by simply removing the links at the top of the homepage.
  • These additional Internet resources would be provided to town residents at no additional cost to the town.
I am planning to present this proposal during the “visitor comments” period at an upcoming SB meeting and hope to receive a positive response.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reason to Care About Select Board Election

The article below entitled Reason to Care About Select Board Election written by Alex Grant appeared in a recent edition of the Longmeadow News and is reprinted here with permisssion of the author and thanks to the Longmeadow News.  

Mr. Grant's article provides some additional commentary about Tuesday's annual town election and Mark Barowsky's support for a change in Longmeadow's form of government.

The May 15, 2012 special election to fill Christine Swanson's vacated seat on the Select Board gave voters not just a choice, but a strange paradox.  Mark Barowsky and Richard Foster, both vying to complete the one year remaining on Swanson's seat, will also be on the ballot, along with incumbent Paul Santaniello, at the June 12, 2012 regular election for two three year seats on the Select Board.  Both Foster and Barowsky said before the special election that they preferred the one year seat and would encourage voters to pick the loser of the special election for the three year seat.

Got that?  The candidate who, having been rejected by the voters for a one year trial run, would be placed on the Select Board for a three year term, essentially by default.  Of course, when there are three candidates for three seats, somebody is going to be elected by default.  But it is a little strange that the preferred candidate would serve less time than the losing candidate.  It is stranger still that the winning candidate would prefer that outcome.

As it turned out, Barowsky carried a healthy majority of the three percent of the electorate who turned out to vote.  Barowsky had pledged to support Foster in the regular election if he won round one.  Assuming Barowsky sticks to his pledge, it will be up to the voters to decide whether to heed his desire to elect his opponent.

Which brings us to the second paradox.  If Barowsky and Santaniello win the most votes on June 12, thus giving Barowsky two seats, one of which he must vacate, then there will need to be another special election.  The result could be three elections to decide how to fill three seats when there were just three candidates running.  Children playing musical chairs usually have no problems when the number of kids and the number of chairs match.  Not so this year in Longmeadow town politics.

It is unfortunate that virtually all of the attention in this year's Select Board race is devoted to the procedural mechanics of holding a town election.  Barowsky, if his pre-election LCTV interview with Arlene Miller is any guide, could prove to be more than a status quo candidate.  Most candidates running for Select Board and School Committee keep it real general when stating their cases.  They will tout their experience, tell you how much they love working collaboratively, and how nothing gives them greater pleasure than listening thoughtfully while other people speak.  They will assure the voters that they want to look at the budget holistically, set priorities, and then, well, take it from there.

Of course, when big issues force their way onto the agenda, like the new high school, it is hard to avoid taking a stand.  Putting controversies like that aside, however, we have in recent years mostly seen status quo candidates and status quo policies from the Select Board.  Perhaps that is a sign that Longmeadow is doing pretty well, and that shaking things up is neither necessary nor wise.

Barowsky has advanced some significant ideas that would change Longmeadow.  One is his support for a mayoral form of government.  That would alter our quaint, Puritan-era form of direct democracy.  Presently, power in Longmeadow town government is diffused to a great, great extent.  Voters at Town Meeting are nominally the legislative (law-making) body under our charter with the greatest power, but practically speaking, they approve the budget and spending put forward by the Town Manager, Select Board, and the School Committee.  The Select Board, elected officials with the greatest mandate from the people, are nominally the executive body of the town, i.e., performing a managerial role.  But that managerial role is largely performed on a day-to-day basis by a professional Town Manager.  On the other hand, the Town Manager is weakened by the fact that she has no electoral mandate, and the fact that her job depends on the support of the Select Board.

A mayor would reign supreme, assuming day-to-day administration of town government, armed with an electoral mandate, and not dependent on the Select Board for his or her job.  The Select Board would essentially become a city council like we see in larger cities in western Massachusetts that makes laws, raises taxes, and passes budgets.  A mayor with majority support from the Select Board could re-make the status quo every few years.  And Town Meeting would be a dead letter.

Barowsky has obviously thought about this issue, and perhaps he has support for it from other elected town officials who back his candidacy.  If he is ready to push for a mayoral form of government, then we should be ready for one of the most significant debates in our town's history.  If he uses his position on the Select Board to place this item on the agenda, his term could be consequential indeed.

by Alex Grant

Longmeadow's Town Government is not working!

Longmeadow's form of government (Select Board/ Town Manager/ Town Meeting) appears to be broken or in desperate need of repair.

For the past two years we have had town elections for both Select Board and School Committee in which there were no voter choices. Voter turnout at these elections was very low with the Special Election on May 15 having the lowest turnout in recent history with less than 3% (344 out of ~ 11,900 registered voters) showing up to the polls. Only 535 voters turned out at the June 2011 town elections.

The upcoming annual town election on Tuesday again presents a slate of unopposed candidates with voter turnout likely to be less than 4% (or ~ 400 voters- my prediction).

June 2011 ATE: 535 (4.5%)
June 2010 ATE: 6522 (54.8%)
June 2009 ATE: 2165 (18.2%)
June 2008 ATE: 1576 (13.2%)

The June 2010 ATE included the new HS override + a contested SB race. The June 2009 ATE had contested elections for both SB and SC.

Recent town meetings have even less voter participation. Here are some recent turnouts...

May 2011 (ATM) 107
June 2011 (STM) 67
Sept 2011 (STM) 70
May 2012 (ATM) 147

During the past year two vacancies on the School Committee were filled by candidates through a difficult School Committee/ Select Board interview/selection process. It is good to see that two of the three appointees are on the election slate for Tuesday.

The fact still remains that after Tuesday only three members of the Select Board and School Committee (Gold/ Barowsky/ Jester) have been elected in a contested race.

In effect Longmeadow has a self appointed form of government.

With such a lack of participation in town government, Longmeadow should consider a new form of town government...

The Select Board should consider formation of a new charter commission to study our alternatives. Perhaps, a mayor/ town council structure would be a more effective way to manage our town.

Election Day Alternative

At first glance it would appear that there is no real choice for Select Board in Tuesday’s annual town election.  Paul Santaniello and Richard Foster will be elected.  This is why another look is warranted.  

During his recent LCTV interview Mr. Foster stated that he was primarily interested in the one year seat.  However, he didn’t post his election campaign signs around town until after the May 15 special election which was for the one year seat.

Mark Barowsky won the one year seat in the May 15 election.  His name is on the ballot again for the three year seat.  Mr. Barowsky has stated that he will be at the polls on Tuesday telling people not to vote for him.  That could result in Mr. Foster being elected.

I urge town voters to consider carefully about electing Mr. Foster who stated in his LCTV interview that he wants to improve everything from schools to streets while identifying no real priorities or revenue sources other than reduction/ elimination of town services.  His performance as chairman of the Capital Planning Committee was not very good.  Over the past two years the Capital Planning process appeared to be broken because of his lack of leadership.

There is an alternative to voting for Mr. Foster.


Yes, there will be a need for another special election but it can probably be conducted during the September primary election at no additional cost to the town.  By then, perhaps a more qualified individual will come forward.

As many town residents, including myself, have stated Longmeadow has deep fiscal problems.  We will be paying for the new high school for the next 30 years.  We have an additional $2.5 million debt that needs to be paid off thanks to Mother Nature.  Our property taxes are by far the highest in Western Massachusetts (see Longmeadow Buzz post- Longmeadow Property Taxes Since 1990) while home sales prices are plummeting and foreclosures are increasing (see Real Estate Buzz post- 2012 Shows Disappointing Home Sales So Far).  Our streets, storm sewers and the DPW facility are in desperate need of repair.

We need capable Select Board members who are going to lead our town through this financial mess. I believe that Mr. Foster is not the person to do this. 

I urge you to vote on Tuesday for SANTANIELLO and BAROWSKY for the two- 3 year Select Board seats.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Longmeadow Adult Center Volunteers Honored

More than 120 people attended the Annual Volunteer Appreciation Lunch given by the Longmeadow Adult Center at the Twin Hills Country Club.  Volunteers are integral to everything the Center accomplishes.  They work in the gift shop and the dining room, deliver meals on wheels, drive people to appointments, teach classes, help with the food pantry, provide fix-it help and generally support all the activities of the Center.

More volunteers can always find an opportunity to help.

Two volunteers who have given 15 years of service were recognized.

Pictured (l to r) are John Bowen, Chair of the Council on Aging; Joe Flanagan, 15-year volunteer; Mark Gold, Chair of the Select Board; Pauly Sample, 15-year volunteer; Dan Zwirko, Legislative Aide to State Representative Brian Ashe; State Senator Gale Candaras; and Paul Santaniello, Vice Chair of the Select Board.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Longmeadow Choices for Select Board

There is a Special Town Election on Tuesday, May 15 to select a candidate to fulfill the remaining term ( 1 year) for the Select Board seat vacated by Christine Swanson who resigned earlier this year.  The two candidates are Mark Barowsky and Richard Foster. 

Below are two LCTV videos (Our Town/ hostess- Arlene Miller) with interviews of the two candidates.

 Mark Barowsky Interview

Richard Foster Interview

Both candidates are also listed on the Annual Town Elections ballot (June 12) for the two open seats.  In addition, Paul Santaniello is listed as well.  Because of Massachusetts state law, the winner of the May 15 election cannot be removed from the June 12 election ballot.

We have three candidates for three Select Board seats.  However, if Mr. Barowsky or Mr. Foster wins seats in both elections, there will be a need for another Special Election at a cost of $8-10,000.  The winning candidate can then choose which seat (1 year or 3 year term) they wish to fill.

With the School Committee elections on June 12, there are four candidates for four open seats (2- three year term, 1- two year term, and 1- one year term) leading to no contested races.

In any event, town residents should plan to vote in both elections (May 15 and June 12) to show support for these candidates. 

Kudos to both LCTV/Arlene Miller for providing
town residents with these candidate interviews.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Town voters need choices

It’s interesting to compare the town politics of East Longmeadow with Longmeadow.  While I’m the first to admit that I know very little about the politics in our neighboring town, I found it quite interesting this morning observing election campaign signs as I drove through the town.   

East Longmeadow’s Annual Town Elections are next week and there are a large number of campaign signs by current School Committee member Joseph Cabrera.  As you can see in the photo, Mr. Cabrera is seeking voter support as a write-in candidate since he lost in the preliminary election last month wherein 5 candidates were seeking 1 School Committee seat and he finished third.  Only the top two candidates are added to the election ballot.

Mr. Cabrera was an outspoken supporter of spending an additional $100K for new lights on the football stadium which was approved at a Special Town Meeting attended by only 400 voters.  This may be a possible reason for his lack of voter support in the preliminary election when 1000 out of 11,000 voters showed up at the polls.   It will be interesting to see how Mr. Cabrera fares as a write-in candidate in the town election next Tuesday, April 10.

In Longmeadow, the situation is quite different with 2 Select Board seats and 4 School Committee seats being essentially uncontested.  While there is a contested Special Election on May 15 to fill the one year seat vacated by Christine Swanson, both candidates are running again in the Annual Town Elections on June 12.

Earlier this year there were three appointments to School Committee seats (see earlier Buzz posts) in which Owen Humphries, James Desroshers and Katherine Girard were appointed. All three of these appointments were a result of resignations by School Committee members.

Over the past two years we have had a number of elected officials resign from the School Committee and Select Board.

One interesting note is that Gerard Kiernan applied for the three different School Committee vacancies over the past year and was not selected.  He is now running in the upcoming election for the open 1 year School Committee seat.  His recent experience shows that it is easier to get elected (or self appointed) than appointed in our town.

Below are the candidates in the upcoming Special Town Election on May 15 and Annual Town Elections on June 12. 

Special Town Election, May 15, 2012

Select Board - 1 one year seat (to fill seat vacated by Christine Swanson)

Mark Barowsky
Richard W. Foster
Annual Town Election, June 12, 2012

Select Board – 2 three year seats
Mark Barowsky
Paul Santaniello– candidate for re-election
Richard Foster

School Committee – 2 three year seats
Kathryn Girard
James Desrochers

School Committee – 1 two year seat
Elizabeth Bone

School Committee – 1 one year seat
Gerard Kiernan

Summary…  After the June town elections, we will have 4 out of 5 members of the Select Board who have run unopposed and 6 out of 7 members of the School Committee.

Jennifer Jester and Mark Gold are the only members of our town leaders who have been elected in a contested election.

I applaud the efforts of those individuals who have stepped up to the plate and are willing to commit their energies to our town.
However, if we are to be successful as a town with our current form of government, we need to be able to elect leaders that best represent our town residents.  Without choice at the ballot box on election day that will not likely be possible.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Senior Tax Relief- Part I

Back in October 2011 I posted a summary about a meeting at the Longmeadow Adult Center explaining a new tax relief measure that was being proposed by John Bowen and the Longmeadow Council on Aging.  This new measure was being based upon the Massachusetts Circuit Breaker Tax Credit.

After this meeting I did some research about the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit and found that the toughest qualification was being 65 years of age or older in order to be eligible to receive up to $980 from the state of Massachusetts.  The Circuit Breaker Tax Credit helps Massachusetts senior homeowners whose real estate taxes, sewer, and water bills combined consumed more than 10% of their total income.  The state also helps renters whose water, sewer, and 25% of the rent combined totaled more than 10% of their income.

Former State Representative Mary Rogeness of Longmeadow wrote in the Longmeadow News in 2001 after the law was passed:

“The Circuit Breaker is designed to provide property relief to low and moderate income senior Citizens through their income tax filing.”

As I continued to review the 10 year old Circuit Breaker Tax Credit, I discovered that it no longer appeared to solely meet its original targeted purpose of assisting seniors who are in financial need.

For example, a Longmeadow property owner with an annual income of $35,000 with a modest home assessed at $150,000 and a $500 water/sewer charge would qualify for $0.

In contrast a property owner with an annual income of
$78,000 (married/filing jointly) with a house assessed at $729,000 and a water/sewer bill of $500 would receive the full $980 tax credit.

The circuit breaker tax credit is based upon the actual real estate taxes paid by a taxpayer who is eligible to claim the credit.  It is equal to the amount by which the taxpayer's property tax payments in the current tax year, including water and sewer charges exceeds 10 percent of the taxpayer's total income, up to a maximum credit amount for tax year 2011 of $980.

Below is a table showing the income (married/ filing jointly) and property assessment thresholds to obtain the full $980.

For a given income level, the above table shows the minimum assessed property value to obtain $980 maximum tax credit at different income levels.  This tax credit as structured provides tax relief to high as well as low annual income levels.

To qualify:
  • you or your spouse must be age 65 or older by the end of the tax year 
  • if married, you must file jointly 
  • if you are a homeowner, your property's assessed value cannot be greater than $729,000 on January 1, 2011 
  • you must meet the income limits
Your total income cannot be greater than these limits for the 2011 tax year:

•    $52,000 single
•    $65,000 head of household
•    $78,000 married filing jointly

"Total income" includes some types of non-taxable income, such as social security, retirement, pensions and annuities, cash public assistance, tax-exempt interest and dividends, and certain other income.

Check out this spreadsheet to see if you qualify for the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit.

Here is a link to some additional tax tips from the website

Some interesting facts about the Massachusetts Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit…

  1. In tax year 2009, the most recent tax year for which complete information is available, 80,566 taxpayers received $61.1 million in cash or credits used to lower income tax payments, an average of $759 per taxpayer.

  2. For the tax year 2009, there were 353 Longmeadow taxpayers who received a total of $306,342 or an average of $868.
In Longmeadow there are almost 3000 town residents over 65 (2010 census) with a median household income of $45,900 (based upon 2005-2009 survey).  Based upon this information I would expect that there are many more senior citizens in our town that could qualify for this tax credit who are not doing so. 

Remember, you do not need to pay Massachusetts income taxes to receive a check.

Call your tax preparer today if you think that you might qualify!

If you are eligible, you can go back three years and claim the credit retroactively. If you owe tax, the credit is deducted from the amount owed. And if you don't owe tax, the state cuts you a check. It's worth taking a few minutes to do the math on this.

Here is a link to the 2011 Circuit Breaker Tax Form

John Bowen and the Council on Aging have redirected their efforts and submitted an article that will appear on the Annual Town Meeting warrant (by petition) which does not rely upon the same criteria as the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Proposed FY2013 School Department Budget

The Longmeadow School Committee held a Public Forum on February 13 meeting to present the FY2013 school department budget and to hear comments from the public.

There were only 2 town residents (not counting School Dept and LCTV employees, SC members and a SB member) so I thought the information and some comments would be of interest to Buzz readers.

Below is a video clip (courtesy of LCTV) of the budget presentation by Marie Doyle.  Some of the slides are difficult to view in the video but they can be downloaded for easier reading....
FY2013 Budget Presentation-->
FY2013 Executive Budget Summary -->

Some questions were asked by the two town residents in attendance.

I asked about the 2.6% increase in the General Fund sourcing requirements and FY2013 school department capital requests including the plan forward for IT spending.  Technology implementation- both hardware and professional headcount in the Longmeadow Schools is quickly becoming a major factor in our School Department budget.  A new technology capital plan has been written and is being reviewed by the School Committee members.  Kevin Warenda outlined a bold lease/ purchase approach that is part of this plan and which will accelerate our move toward the state guideline ratio of 1:1 student/ computer device (see video clip below, courtesy of LCTV).  There was no discussion of expected costs with this proposal.

Dave Gustafson asked about the $100K reduction in utility costs, made a couple of comments including one recommending that the School Committee be careful with the rapid deployment of technology in the schools.  He was concerned about the loss of critical thinking skills.

I asked about any provisions in the budget for teacher salary increases and COLAs.  The Longmeadow Teachers contract expires on August 31 and there is no new contract in place. The FY2013 budget does not include COLAs for teachers.  A 1% COLA for School Dept employees was estimated to cost ~$230K."  Contractual Step Increases for teachers are in the FY2013 budget and total ~ $259K.


Bottom line: The town's General Fund portion of the FY2013 school dept funding will increase by 2.6% or $786,134 due in part to funding reductions in Grants and Special Revenues.

On the town government side of the budget...

Through the efforts in the state legislature led by our State Representative, Brian Ashe, Longmeadow (as well as other communities) will likely be allowed to pay the unreinbursed cleanup costs from the "Halloween snowstorm" by issuing a 5 year bond at low interest rates.  Estimated unreimbursed costs are $3 million dollars... so it will be an additional budget cost of ~ $600K/ year.

Some members of the SB had expressed optimism that the total FY2013 budget could be held flat from last year in order to mitigate Part II of the increase in property taxes that will occur in FY2013 due to the new HS project.  It will be interesting to see how much increase there will be with the FY2013 budget that will be presented at the ATM for approval by town voters.