Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?
These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.
Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...
...seems to be working so far
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
These are stories we can recite by heart. We know how they begin, how they end, and rely on them to be the same each time we hear them.
It's a comfort thing, the archiving, and sharing of the story the way we know, and love it. It would be a bit unnerving if in another version of the story those three little pig hunted down, and ate the wolf, or Snow White fell for Doc instead of the prince. Unnerving, and not comfortable at all.
So, what's the heck is Hollywood trying to accomplish with "alternate endings" to movies? There have been many movies released in recent years with an alternate ending. If you don't like how it ended, you can change it, and watch another ending. Feel satisfied? No, not really. The original story does stay with you, and anything else is merely a curiosity.
The 2011 movie "Tower Heist", starring Ben Stiller, and Eddie Murphy has been released on DVD, and Blue Ray with two alternate endings.
Why? The endings may have been discussed early in the films production, but abandoned for one reason, or another. So why think to include them on the release?
I think it might be an example of trying to please everyone, but maybe it's something deeper going on. The director may want to share all of his work, and not leave anything hidden away on some shelf, and never be seen again.
Ego may just have a bit to do with it, too.
I don't think we need to make anymore choices than we need to. For most of us, we are one step away from not remembering where we are at any given moment due to living in a modern, busy world. Adding to the confusion is something to avoid, at least for me. I have trouble remembering how yesterday ended, never mind the several endings to one movie.
A true cinema-phile would cherish the alternative endings just as they enjoy the version with the director, and cast commenting on the film as it plays. For people with a normal attention span this version may be fine, but then, there's me, with an attention span the length of a...
...Oooo, look, a rainbow!
Sorry. See what I mean?
I did get to thinking about this whole thing about supplying different versions of something for those that would prefer column "A", and not column "B". It came to me that it would be a great idea if policies, actions, new projects, and such, that are initiated by the town, came with alternate endings, or work-arounds. Something like, if the copper gutter system on the restored town hall proved to be historically nice, but caused the towns residents cough up a hairball in fiscal protest, aluminum could then be substituted without loosing a dime, or time wasted by arguing. Alternate ending. Happy ending.
In the local scenario it would be less about ego, and more about something to please most everyone. That could still be accomplished without alternate endings, if more alternatives were shared during the process, and each actions pros and cons were then shared in detail before coming to a town vote. Not to say that this isn't done to some extent already, but it would be done all the time instead of promoting one particular scenario to us. Let all decide, not the few. The "good, better, best" of each one would be explained. An informed choice could then be made. No more surprises.
Then, when all the alternate "beginnings, and in-the-middles" are shared, and explained in detail to all, and choices are made from the best of all the information, then do-overs (local alternate endings) would, hopefully, not be needed to be done.
And, we all lived happily ever after.
Monday, February 20, 2012
In order to enjoy the land, beyond the high fives at the property closing, there must be access to the property that encourages all of the designed uses, and money to maintain the infrastructure needed for the land.
Trail heads for all conservation land that allows more then one vehicle to park safely, and well marked trails are essential. The Stallion Hill Property has parking for barely one vehicle, and it is a dangerous place to park
Every town owned property should be marked with a sign large enough to be read from the road. The sign should indicate the name of the property, and also direct people to parking. A master map, that is easy enough for a fourth grader to read, should be drawn, and available with each properties name, use, access point, restrictions (if any). Last map we have available is from 2005, and it is too complicated for the average hiker / walker to interpret.
There are properties in town that are not marked, or have a trail head, such as the town land off of Clarke Road. They are the Secret Places. Their existence is not made known, except on seven year old maps, because, well, someone might find them and use them, and how the heck can you preserve something that people are using?
Sorry, it's all I got; only reason I can come up with. It's probably way off.
The Heins property off Leadmine Road is a wonderful property with trails, and a large open meadow. Much could be done with this land, however access is only by trail, with parking on Leadmine Road. This is not a problem for those going for a bit of a hike / walk, but for families with small children that would like to enjoy the land, its views, and everything else it has to offer, it may be a bit much going in, and with a tired four year old, almost impossible coming out.
The Heins family owns the original home and barn at the end of the Shumway Hill Road, and public access is not allowed to their former property via that road. This would have been ideal had the town obtained an easement. Thus, a small matter limits the lands use. Think of all the activities that could be done on the land were there easier access.
Access, and signage are two things we need to work on for all town owned conservation land, otherwise it is unusable to most.
A couple of things for the to do list. Sometimes a little poke helps to get things moving.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Saturday, February 18, 2012
- Many people don’t see their property tax bills because they are sent from the town directly to a mortgage holder. Take a look at how much you pay in property taxes each year and what the surcharge costs you.
- Sturbridge’s “Community Preservation Fund” is not a pot of money just sitting there waiting to be spent. Actually, we feel it should really be called the “Community Preservation Borrowing Fund” because it’s used mainly to pay the $4.3 million dollar CPA debt. The bottom line: the town took out loans to do four expensive, worthwhile projects, and we’ll be paying on them until the year 2030. The bad news: the 3% surcharge does not go away until the debt is paid. The good news: the state-matching funds will continue as long as there’s a surcharge, or until there is no more state funding; also, the CPA can be brought back in the future if voter’s wish.
- The town completed five land acquisitions using CPA funds – four of which still require Conservation Restrictions on them. We, the voters, approved those acquisitions and simultaneously authorized the town to place permanent Conservation Restrictions on them; however, the town has not completed them, thus making them vulnerable to conversions to uses other than conservation. Town officials have been asked to complete them several times since last May and a handful of times since 2005; but so far, none have been completed.
- Voters at the 2011 Fall Special Town Meeting will recall the controversy over the town’s attempt at inserting “active recreation” into the Shepard deed, a property purchased by voters for conservation purposes with CPA funds in 2004. This was an attempt by certain town officials at shoehorning a multi-sports complex onto a conservation parcel by doing a “deed correction,” a tactic that completely bypassed the proper process. This property should have had a Conservation Restriction placed on it after it was purchased. And worthy of note: the very same people who talk about preserving our town’s character and using our vast open spaces for hiking, biking and kayaking, never said a word publicly about that conversion, which would have taken place on top of rare turtle habitat. Voters are hereby advised that all of the so-called “conservation” land purchased in our town is at risk of conversion because the CPA warrant articles contained ambiguous language – the same thing that happened to the Shepard parcel can happen to the other parcels.
- Certain town officials completely wasted $72,000 of CPA funding for recreational field designs on the Shepard parcel because no one did the required due diligence to determine what uses were legally permissible on the parcel. The vote to convert the Shepard parcel’s use should have come BEFORE that money was spent, using the proper Article 97 process.
Is it what we demand to see, or is it because the media feels we need to see it? Maybe, something altogether different. A bit more self centered on behalf of the networks. Offer more of the same, in a different way, over and over, and it will attract more viewers. More viewers, equal high numbers for ratings. Those numbers set the price they offer for advertising.
Could something as sad, and solemn as a celebrity, and mothers, death be used to line the make money for the networks? Of course. It is done everyday, and this past week was no different.
All I wish for is that she be allowed to rest in peace, and that the media moves on.
Respect comes in all forms, and that would be one of them.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Not bad. Those meetings were just a few months ago. Typically late, but not bad.
I also received meeting minutes from July 25, July 18, July 11, July 5, and, wait for it....
...April 4, 2011.
I know. I have brought this up several times, and you have commented, and commented on how you believe the delay is unacceptable. We have heard from the Chairman of the Board of Selectman, Tom Creamer, on December 3rd of this past year, offering his rationale, and his apology, for the repeated, and historic, delays. I guess he didn't tell the person typing up the minutes.
"To that point, the release of these finally approved minutes clearly fails to reach the threshold level of reasonable; as such it is in fact truly unacceptable that this situation has manifested. As one member of the Board, I fully accept my share of responsibility for the delay as I could have pressed much harder, much sooner, but quite frankly, I allowed other Town matters - tornadoes, hurricanes, Town concerns that arise daily, Town Meeting preparation, an October nor'easter, etc, to dictate my focus. As all of our meetings are televised, recorded, and replayed daily, I have not been as assertive on this issue as I could have; and for that I will accept full responsibility and no level of other demands upon our time can alter the fact that we failed to ensure the release of the minutes in a timelier manner.
I can say unequivocally that the delay in these meeting minutes being presented to the Board for final approval has been publicly raised on a number of occasions over the last several months - though clearly not in as assertively as it could have been - at least in terms of my approach, as I and another member of the Board have raised this issue publicly and have both characterized this situation during these public discussions as "unacceptable" and one that needed to be corrected "immediately".
There has been however a lapse of more specific focus on this issue - at least on my part - as I have allowed other Town concerns and challenges to distract my focus away from the minutes. For that, I apologize to you and all residents."
Chairman of the Board of Selectman,
Today is February 15, 2012. It has been months since any appreciable snow fell. More months since the hurricane rolled though, and the tornado hit town. Although, much work still needs to be done to recover from those insults, much more has already been done. The excuse / reason that those storms have distracted the Chairman from following through on timely dissemination of the minutes is no longer valid.
If one cannot keep ones house in order, it is difficult to believe they can keep much else in in order. Just because we discussed this issue a few times, and a rationale, and apology were offered, it does not mean it is finished. Not if the same issue continues to go uncorrected.
Take this bit of advice from someone that knows all too well its meaning,
Mr.Chairman, you may want to put a pillow on your chair today.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
Coincidence? Most likely. I don't think they read this blog, or give a hoot whose house they work in front of.
Twice inside a month!
Cynicism is not one of my traits, and I do give credit where credit is due. This time would be no different.
He wrote hopefully.
After the truck pulled away from where they were working, I saw what they were up to. There was a dozen, or so, tall trees, not too big, with a diameter of 6 to 8 inches, that stood at the corner of the two lots across the street. Apparently, these trees had every intent of reaching toward the wires again someday, and although they had been trimmed just a few weeks ago, they were being "trimmed" again. Actually, trimmed is not quite the word, they were cut in half, leaving 10 foot "stalks" with a few branches remaining.
Job completed. Effective trimming with ugly results, but we didn't ask for pretty, we demanded it be done well.
No question that those trees will be thinking twice before making their way towards National Grid property again.
Now, here are my only questions to be generated by this work: was this merely a do over because something they had previously missed had been pointed out to them? Did they do "touch-ups" along their previously trimmed route elsewhere in town?
I guess it really doesn't matter. We are just not used to seeing this kind of attention given to something that is an issue. The fact that they are still in town, and making sure that there will be less chance of us loosing power next time we are hit with 12 inches of snow on fully leafed out trees, or anytime, is great.
Something good has finally come from that October snow.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
“From the last full fiscal year that the building was occupied prior to the renovation to the first full year of occupancy since, the Town Hall required 7.2 percent less oil per square foot than prior to the renovation,” said Town Administrator Shaun A. Suhoski. “Certainly, weather patterns play a key role in fuel consumption, but, also the renovations, which included repair of all windows to eliminate drafts as well as additional attic insulation, have helped to control heating costs.” "
Click here for the Worcester Telegram article.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
This past Sunday, Thomas Caywood, a reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette not only thunk out loud, he wrote real good, too.
In an article entitled, "Recurring Sturbridge business closing draws consumer scrutiny". The article is not only informative, but gives us a peak at what may be the real reason behind the multiple claims of "going out of business" by the stores elderly owner, Carlton "Warren" Marshall, over the last couple of years. I won't degrade Mr. Caywoods words by paraphrasing them here; I suggest that you click the link and read the article in it's entirety, right down to the last three lines.
You see, there in those last three lines may lie the reason for the bizarre business behavior.
"But Mr. Marshall isn't exactly apologetic about the issue.
When asked what he would say to people who feel the signs are deceptive, Mr. Marshall replied: "Tell 'em to go screw."
Those close to him should have intervened, and offered better business advice.
But wait, there's more...
With all the attention given to illegal sandwich board signs here in town, non-compliant open flags, and all the other transgressions against our silly sign by-law, you would think that the folks "in charge" of doling out the signs, and sign permits, would not only be up to speed on our our sign by-law, but the General Laws of the Commonwealth when it comes to "Going Out of Business" signage. It's obvious that Mr. Marshall was advised by someone at town hall to hire "sign holders", and not just hang the signs around town. You would think that after the third time in twenty-four months those signs were hoisted on Main Street, that the "somethings wrong with this picture" alarm would be going off at town hall.
Yes, we can blame Mr. Marshall for scamming us. It wasn't an attempt to scam, he did make sales during those repeated "going out of business" moments, thus he did scam. We also need to hold someone accountable at Town Hall as well. This should not have happened.
If there isn't a person "in charge" at Town Hall, but several people doing little pieces of the overall picture, and not knowing what the whole picture looks like, then that should be changed. Otherwise, we shouldn't complain when those "pictures" come out distorted.
Lesson learned. I hope.
And, now on a completely lighter, but not too far removed, note:
Monday, February 6, 2012
- Sturbridge is currently $4.3 million dollars in long-term CPA debt due to the completion of four very worthwhile but expensive CPA projects. Final payoffs on that debt are the years 2017, 2026, and 2030.
- The 3% CPA Surcharge is ON TOP OF the current tax rate of $17.63 (less the first $100K of property value.) The chart below puts it into perspective: our town has the second highest property tax rate in comparison to nine surrounding communities. From a home buyer perspective, Sturbridge’s property taxes are off-putting.
- We need to revoke the Community Preservation Act and stop new spending….NOW.
- Currently, our annual CPA debt service exceeds our annual CPA Surcharge Revenue: the anticipated 2012 Surcharge Revenue is $360,000; the annual debt service is $413,482. *The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has opined that when communities consider borrowing for large CPA projects, the debt service should not exceed the SURCHARGE REVENUES – but Sturbridge’s does.
- When the CPA was adopted, the state match was at 100%. Now, the match is 23%; as more towns adopt the CPA, the percentage of state matching funds declines.
Why revoke the CPA?
Reason 1: We are $4.3 million in CPA debt that we must pay until 2030. We do not feel it is appropriate to fund new projects, especially in light of the 2011 natural disasters and the town’s current budget situation. The CPA can be brought back by voters at a later date if they so choose.
Reason 2: In addition to the annual 3% Surcharge Revenue, the town relies on other Community Preservation Fund balances that are carried forward each year to pay the long-term debt; but those funds are also being spent on new, smaller projects. For example, at the June 2011 Town Meeting, voters approved $58,000 in four smaller projects plus $15,000 for administration – should that money be saved for when the state-match is reduced or depleted? Or can it be used to more quickly pay down the long-term debt principal and interest?
Reason 3: Taxpayers need a break! We cannot revoke the 3% surcharge until the debt is paid; but we can revoke the Community Preservation Act and stop new projects from coming forward. We can stop further debt build-up, and we can stop using funds on new, smaller projects that deter funds away from our current debt.
|FY 2012 Property Tax Rates (All communities except Webster have a single tax classification)|
Rates are per $1,000 of assessed valuation (Source: MA Department of Revenue)
|Brimfield $14.48||Brookfield $16.45|
|Charlton $12.00||Dudley $10.90|
|East Brookfield $14.22||Holland $15.18|
|Spencer $12.28||Southbridge $17.83|
|Sturbridge $17.63 (+3% Surcharge, less $100K exemption)||Webster $11.78 (Residential) $18.47 (Comm’l & Industrial)|