The Town Manager announced recently that the average tax increase for a Chelmsford homeowner in 2012 is about $200. This represents about a 4% tax increase, and brings the increases over the past decade to over 50%. My home’s taxes have increased some 60% in that decade. That is not supposed to happen under Proposition 2.5. What is going on?
One factor is that Proposition 2.5 does not say that homeowner taxes will not rise more than 2.5 percent. What is says is that the total tax levy for the town will not rise more than 2.5 percent for existing commercial and residential properties combined. As Town Manager Paul Cohen and Community Development Director Evan Belansky have bungled the handling of commercial properties – encouraging new construction, driving vacancy rates through the roof and tanking commercial property values – the tax levy from commercial properties has dropped and residential homeowners, having properties with more stable values, have necessarily been stuck picking up the slack.
This is the Town Manager that Jim Lane and Jon Kurland both characterize as a “superstar,” a “franchise player,” and that the entire BOS supports for another four years as our town manager.
Here is what our “superstar” Town Manager said in February of 2010 about the DPW debt exclusion’s effect on tax rates:
Here is what he said in January of 2010 in the Chelmsford Independent:
If voters approve the proposal and Town Meeting members pass the appropriation for the facility, tax payers could expect the average single family tax bill to go up by $21 in fiscal 2011, $25 in fiscal 2012, $49 in fiscal 2013 and 2014 and begin to fall by 2015."
Cohen changed that just before the vote, to state that taxes due to the debt would go up just $7 in 2012 and would actually decline starting in 2014:
April 2nd 2010 – Chelmsford Independent / Wicked Local Chelmsford
"If voters approve phase one of the project tomorrow, the average tax bill is expected to rise by $28 in fiscal 2011. But with the declining debt service on the town’s sewer and school construction projects officials say taxpayers will see a net increase of $14 in fiscal 2011, $7 in fiscal 2012 and would see the debt decline in 2014."
After the vote, in July of 2009:
7-12-09 – Lowell Sun
"Cohen said taxpayers wouldn't feel the brunt of either project until 2013, by which time the economy is expected to have rebounded. Both projects would increase the average single-family tax bill by about $76.50 at its highest rate, which Cohen estimates would be in 2014. After that, the amount would continue to decline until 2020, when the debt service is expected to drop back to its current level."
This sort of misrepresentation of the facts, the soft-pedaling of true costs of debt exclusions, true costs of town-sponsored 40B and 40R construction, true costs of the loss of town assets including open space, has got to stop.
But it’s not going to stop as long as the current selectmen remain in office. Selectman Jon Kurland publicly stated that the debt exclusion was not a Proposition 2.5 override. What did he think it was being “excluded” from? The April 5 ballot question’s first sentence asked the voter, “Shall the Town of Chelmsford be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so called, the amounts to pay for the bonds...” Now, how is that not a prop 2.5 override? In fact, in a carefully staged interview with realtor and Eliopoulos pal Dennis Ready before the vote, Mr. Kurland stated that “the proposed debt exclusion is not a Prop 2.5 override because it’s not a permanent tax increase.” Huh? Dennis Ready responds, “It’s just another misleading statement by Van Liew.” You see how this works? You posit a false premise, and then have a proxy attack dog act on that statement to attack your opponent. This combines the best elements of sophist logic and deniability, and it is a favorite technique of Kurland’s.
Here is a lawyer who is willing to claim that he does not understand the law, does not understand how to read the Proposition 2.5 statute. Here is a selectman who is willing to claim he does not know how to read the warrant articles or ballot questions he votes on. It’s no wonder he vociferously claims that no ethics laws were violated during the 9 North Road scandal. Here is a person who is either willing to misrepresent the law or is too stupid to understand it. I think I know which it is. You can make up your own mind.
The tax rate and the efficient use of tax dollars is an issue that cuts across many of the contentious issues facing the town. As I discuss those issues in the coming weeks, I hope voters will understand that they interconnect. One of the favorite canards of the proxies who attack me personally each week is that I am a “one issue candidate” and am “unhappy about one vote.” Of course, the “one issue” changes in their attacks from week to week, varying from 9 North Road to the malfeasance of the Town Manager to the ridiculous pork barrel scheme titled “Affordable Housing Plan” to the protection of Oak Hill. Is the “one vote” the BOS vote to ignore the preservation restrictions meant to preserve the Village Green as Center Park? Or the Planning Board’s vote to accept the “Affordable Housing Plan” giveaway of town-owned open space for high density development? Or the BOS vote to use taxpayer funds to pay town counsel to quash formal inquiry into the 9 North Road scandal? Perhaps one of the Planning Board’s votes to grant 8 special permits and the site permit to obliterate what is supposed to be Center Park? Or the BOS vote renew the contract of a demonstrably incompetent and corrupt town manager? Or maybe the vote to oppose the citizen petition to protect Oak Hill with a warrant article to fund a redundant study trying to force acceptance of high density housing on that pristine open space?
I cannot answer which is the “one issue” that the proxies for corrupt officials will select this week to use as justification for their attacks claiming that I only care about “one issue” or “one vote” (whatever they choose to say it is). But I can tell you that there are many important and problematic issues that face the town’s government and most of them affect taxes. In coming weeks I’ll talk about these other issues in more detail.
Roland Van Liew