Autumn in the North Cemetery.

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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Are We Really Recovering?

I received the following email a few days ago.

"Hi Wally
I read your blog, and wanted you to read this about the Best Places to live and how we in Sturbridge are seeing the town asset values going down like a rock.  (Ex. Basketville sold $550,000.00  and Rom's sold $425,000.00) just a few examples of Prime Real Estate that should be Million Dollar plus and now going less than some of the homes in Sturbridge.    The future is not looking good and if you want here read this about Wellesley,_MA  and see how we are going backwards.
Also with the taxes this year going to be over $19.00 its crazy.   How can these politicians sleep at night spending more and more and seeing Route 20 and 131 just falling apart.    And the future budget in the years ahead are showing that we will have higher taxes.
I have friends in Wellesley laughing saying a $750,000 home tax rate is the same as we are paying here in Sturbridge for a $395,000.00 home.   Should it not be the opposite.   Even the Seniors I meet are saying how much more can this go up, we are in a recession with incomes lower, assets dropping and taxes going up like a rocket.   When will the madness stop.
Just thought maybe on your blog its time to really start telling these politicians to quit robbing our pocketbooks.   Other towns are doing it, look at Northboro, it’s not Boston area and made Boston Magazines best place to live in 2012.   And they are smiling and progressing with a good school system, lower taxes and increased property values.   The future looks bright. 
Well enjoy reading this and like to hear your comments.

Enclosed for you to  read this article about Northboro, Massachusetts.   They were rated "Best Places to Live in 2012"notice the article and its stating property values are going up and a tax rate of only $14.99.   And people are so happy the Home Prices have risen 4%, unlike Sturbridge which property values are going into the cellar.
Funny in 2009 it was Wellesley, Massachusetts the Best Place to Live and their tax rate for 2012 is $11.49....  (this is telling us our town needs major changes) 
 See what I mean, maybe time for this town to wake up and smell the coffee...
Should we not get to this as our goal for the future of this town and our kids so they wont be left with assets going negative as we have seen in the past few years here and tax rates going through the roof...  
Read the article, this is what Sturbridge should be in the goals, instead we are going the opposite, just spending and running the budget up even further..  And to add more Insult Northboro got the 2012 Budget Award Presentation and our Town is going to have another tax increase to $19.00.   So in the past 5 years our taxes went over 6.00 up.    While these towns are "status" towns and can operate on lower budgets and still have top education, real estate and public awareness.
Steve Chojnicki
31 Audubon Way
Sturbridge, MA  01566"

Lots being said in the email, and I hope I can take it apart a bit and offer some decent input.

First of all, the recession officially ended in June of 2009.  Everything we have felt since then has been a result of the havoc that the recession played on jobs, real estate, retirement accounts, and so one, and so one.

Real estate prices went down naturally.  They were artificially inflated for years, and a correction was long over due.  People were aware of this for years, and they closed their eyes and hoped for the best.  Real estate also is reflective of what an area offers.  If property values drop in a particular area one must look into why.  Yes, we can blame the bubble for bursting and causing the problem, but there is often many more reasons as well.  A good town government, excellent schools, a strong infrastructure, good community opportunities for recreation, entertainment, retail, and employment are all reasons that real estate prices will remain stable, and grow.  There are many more influences as well, but if any of these I have listed are out of whack, they will affect real estate in a negative way.  A community must not only offer an infrastructure, and a plan for growth, they must start it, and market what they have built.  Not hope for a company to express an interest in an area if it only had town water and sewer, and then spend years debating whether the investment in infrastructure is worth it.

Say good-bye to that company, and Northborough may just be the community that not only says hello, but offers a them a hug as well.

Competition is good for communities, and we aren't good at competition.

When a community taxes higher than an other community that offers more, than the question has to be, Why?".  Do we have bigger and better schools than the other community?  Do we spend more than we take in?  Are we smaller than the other community, but want to have what they have with a smaller population to pay for it?  Do we have more debt?  Are the people we entrust to run the ship not truly qualified to be on the bridge?

A community has to have a specific, concrete plan, for growth with all departments, boards, and towns people on board, and a set calendar of when to implement the growth, when different stages will be completed, and what we should expect in return to the town coffers.  

Implementation of the plan is something most communities choke on.  We did.  The Master Plan from the 1980's was barely looked at after it was written, and the committee disbanded.  I am hopeful for the current one, but implementation of the plan in an aggressive manner will convince me.

There are so many factors that affect a community.  Currently, with the purchase of Basketville, and Roms for less than one would expect are a reflection of what I touched on above.  In a better market, with aggressive competition with other communities, those property prices would have been higher, and sold sooner.  Fact is, no one wanted them.  The community didn't offer a successful face for business.  Hopefully, with the price more affordable, and new businesses coming in it will change the business landscape in town.  I believe we are already seeing it with the new cinema coming to town.  

One does not invest in a venture unless there is a excellent return projected for the project.  

Bit by bit we will do better.  Baby steps like Roms, the cinema, and Basketville will set the pace.  Town elections will refine the ships crew, and strong people will be drafted, and volunteer will implement the plan.

Expect change to happen, and if it doesn't happen at the rate, and in the direction we would like to see, then address it.  Maybe, even volunteer for a board, or run for an office.

Thanks for the email, Steve. Using Northborough's lead as a guide would be wise, but I think we are on our way.


CPA and Long-Term Debt Disclosure

Submitted on March 30, 2012 by Barbara Search

In  2007 the residents of Sturbridge slid into $2,150,000 of long-term debt with hardly a sound.  We were told that we would want to take the opportunity to buy the Old Sturbridge Village property because it is such pristine land with ponds and streams that even the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife wanted to share the total cost with us. And, for another $800,000 we could acquire the Heins Farm.
And so began a string of purchases promoted by the CPC (Community Preservation Committee) that now total a debt in principal of $4,347,798 plus $1,689,526 in interest that we will pay for until 2030.  The total cost of these purchases in principal and interest is $6,037,324.  Even now, as the question of whether or not to revoke the CPA goes to ballot, the CPC conversation is about what was purchased and not about the cost of those purchases.
Then, as now, the CPC rhetoric calls attention to the wonderful things they’ve done for us with our money.  Our money being the 3% surcharge on our real estate taxes and the match (referred to by some as “free” money) provided by the State which is paid for by us in real estate transfer fees.  Think about it!  We, in Sturbridge, will be paying $1,690,526 in interest for what some have said is the chance to receive “free” money.
The CPC wants to remain in active existence and to have the CPA continue because they and the Selectmen have said new opportunities for future purchases are down the road.  With the exception of small expenditures, new purchases can only mean more long-term debt and additional interest expense.
The CPC must be forthcoming with their presentations in favor of CPA projects.  They must inform the public of the true cost of the long-term debt related to the purchases they support. It is time Sturbridge residents insist on full disclosure of all the facts related to CPA purchases, stop the CPC special interest group spending, and vote “YES” on Question #4 to revoke the CPA.
Yes, the surcharge and match (while available) will continue until the debt is paid, but at least with revocation of the CPA the debt will not continue to grow.
Yes, there is a difference between long-term debts for needs (schools, sewers) and wants (CPA).
Here are the numbers on the CPA long-term debt.
Project Total Principal Interest Total
Town Hall/Center School        $1,497,798 $612,726 $2,110,524
OSV   1,350,000   616,260   1,966,260
Heins Farm     800,000   371,040   1,171,040
Stallion Hill     700,000     89,500     789,500
$4,347,798         $1,689,526 $6,037,324

Vote “YES” on Ballot Question # 4 to Revoke the CPA.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Celebrate Earth Day: Volunteer at a trail near you!

April traditionally brings on the first of several trail volunteer opportunities and this year is no different. Celebrate Earth Day, April 21st, by volunteering at one of several area trail projects. Donations and support for this volunteer trail day in the form of drinking water and food for lunch are welcome. Youth groups, families, service organizations are all welcome to participate. Pre registration is requested to allow for proper planning of projects, logistical support and to maximize the work organization. The various contact names and emails are listed below.

The Sturbridge Trail Committee:   Trail locator sign post installation at Heins Farm.  Trail locator posts need to be installed that will be marked with a special number, much like a street address, that can be referenced if there is an emergency on the trail.  The public safety office will have these locator numbers with specific direction so dispatchers can quickly direct the appropriate response.

Arbutus Park Trail Improvements on Leadmine Mt property.  Tractors and rakes needed to spread fine gravel and clear trail of winter debris.  Additional help needed to demolish and remove 2 old unneeded trail bridges.

The Holland Trail Committee: Preparing the Holland / Brimfield Connector trail for final surfacing. Activities will include grading, raking, shoveling, brush cutting, culvert clearing, and litter removal.

The Brimfield Trail Committee: 5K trail race cleanup volunteers will inspect and help clean up and mark the 5K trail race set for the following Saturday.

“Curtis Island” Loop trail improvements and wildlife habitat creation. Help Brimfield Boy Scout Eric Costa work on his Eagle Scout project.  Projects include trail maintenance and improvement as well as clearing and stacking bush from the winter storm into piles, and a general cleanup of a rough mowed field for wildlife habitat.

The Southbridge Trail Committee: Shoulder stabilization and trail tread improvements to a section of the Westville Community trail.

U S Army Corps of Engineers: Lake Shoreline & River trail Cleanup: Much tornado debris was deposited in the waters of the East Brimfield Lake and the area’s first nationally designated Recreation Water trail, the Quinebaug River.  Boats and canoes are needed to patrol the shoreline and river trail to pick up any remaining debris.

Reforestation & stream bank stabilization: A combined total of over 500 acres of project upland and river side trees were totally destroyed by the tornado.  Forest recovery and logging operations have started, and there is need to replant these areas with new tree seedlings.  Help needed to plant 600 tree seedlings and spread 100 cubic yards of wood chips.

Meeting locations and contact information to register:

Sturbridge Trail Committee: Heins Farm Parking lot, 197 Leadmine Rd and  
The OSV Access Rd trail head parking lot, 10 Old Sturbridge Village Rd
To register: email: Randy Redetzke at or call 508-347-6340
Brimfield Trail Committee: 207 Five Bridge Rd., Trail Head parking lot
To register: email: Tony Bys at:   or call: 413-563-3564

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: 24 Riverview Ave, Fiskdale Ma.
To register: email:  call: 508-347-3705

Holland Trail Committee: Quinebaug River Trail Head parking lot, Pond Bridge Rd.
To register: email Dick Haller at  or call: 413 245-7745

Southbridge Trail Committee: Westville Lake Project Office, 200 Marjorie Lane,
To register: email Scott Benoit at, or email:  or call: 508-347-3705

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Sunday Morning Muse

Genius is taking a simple idea, filling a need, and making a buck at it.  And, if I can make a few dollars from the endeavor as well, it is not only genius, but flipping brilliant.

I have had two iPhone 3G's sitting on the kitchen counter for about three months.  Just sitting there.  I've donated phones to the troops in the past, but I seriously doubt the troops are happy to get five year old cell phones, so donating a very dated iPhone didn't sound like the best thing to do either. 

So, there they sat.

Then, about three weeks ago I saw a commercial on TV for a website called  They commercial stated that if I went to the site, gave some information about the old phones that they would buy them from me.

Woohoo!!  Cash money!!  Somalians for the iPhones!! got a visit from me that day.  I answered some questions about the phone, and yes, it was one of the ones they accepted, and yes it it was in good shape they would pay me $43.00 for each one! 

$43.00!  They only cost me $99.00 two and a half years ago.  That means the iPhones were going to end up costing me $0.06 a day for the past 30 months.

Six cents a day! sent me a package containing a box , and a postage paid shipping label for me to send them the phones.  Once in their hands they would confirm its condition, and if it was what I said it was they would send along a check for $43.00 for each one of the phones.  Friday we received the checks.

Now, enjoy your coffee, and after you read this, round up your old cell phones, and go check out  They may have a tank of gas waiting for you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How In The World Can The Town Change The Wording Of The CPA Revocation Pettion On The Ballot To Meet Their Needs? Easy, They Can't, But They Did

The following was submitted by Carol Childress--ed.

On Monday nights during Selectmen’s meetings, Sturbridge citizens hear that we should question government, vote at Town Meetings, and participate in citizen’s forums – 'this is the people’s Town Hall.' The political jargon is overwhelming at times – but all those statements ring true to us because they echo our Constitution – it’s what we WANT to hear and believe. But when it comes right down to it – do they REALLY mean it?

The following is the perfect illustration of how our local government has usurped the power of the people – when this kind of stuff happens, it doesn’t matter whether you vote at Town Meeting or question government. In this particular case, two of the petitioners proactively approached Selectmen on February 6th to ask that Town Counsel write the CPA ballot question, now known as Question 4 on the upcoming Town Election. We asked to be placed on their agenda, so they knew we were coming and they had time to research our request. However, they denied allowing Town Counsel to write the ballot question, saying it would “cost money” while also setting a precedent for other petitioners who want to bring ballot questions to Town Elections. They recommended that we find our own attorney and we did so because we had no other choice – we wanted RESIDENTS to decide if they want to revoke or keep the CPA.

Our ballot question was completely NEUTRAL. As written on the petition that 365 people signed, it simply reversed the question asked of voters in the original 2001 ballot question written by Town Counsel when the CPA was adopted in Sturbridge. However, we learned a couple days ago that Town Counsel has REWRITTEN our ballot question; the last two sentences in that rewrite read: "Rescission of the CPA will mean that the Town will not collect the surcharge or matching funds from the state. Note, however, that even after the CPA is revoked, the surcharge will continue to be assessed until such time as any contractual obligations incurred by the Town under the CPA have been satisfied, including the payment of debt service."

That wording above above was NOT included in the 2001 ballot question written by Town Counsel, nor is it mentioned in any other ballot questions used by other communities who have tried to revoke the CPA. There are many underhanded things that politicians can do; but this one is pretty egregious. They’ve spent the money on Town Counsel they said they didn’t want spend when we asked them to write the ballot question; they rewrote our NEUTRAL ballot question without our knowledge; and the rewrite includes that “Rescission …” sentence, which we view as an absolute outright lie. In addition to all that, this rewrite also means that every single one of those 365 residents will get something completely different than what they signed on to – a completely NEUTRAL question on the ballot. The town didn’t tell anyone about this – we just found out by accident, thanks to Paul Roy’s series of articles about the CPA in The Examiner: And what is most sad and pathetic, is when we questioned the Town Administrator as to why our NEUTRAL ballot question was rewritten and on what legal grounds did they do so, we received a precisely imprecise response, which is pasted in below:

From: "Shaun Suhoski"
Cc: "Lorraine Murawski"
Date: 03/23/2012 02:48:30 EDT
Subject: Ballot Question #4

Dear Carol and Dave,

You have each queried me about the "summary" printed to accompany ballot question #4 (the CPA revocation question). Town Counsel has reviewed the statutory requirements, conferred with appropriate authorities at the Mass. DOR and State Elections Division, and remains convinced the language is proper.

I have also reviewed the language as a lay person and find it to be an unbiased, concise summary. I plan no further action on this matter.

Thank you for sharing your concerns.

Shaun A. Suhoski
Town Administrator
Town of Sturbridge
308 Main Street, Town Hall
Sturbridge, MA 01566
(508) 347-2500
(508) 347-5886 (fax)
ΓΌ Please consider the environment before printing this email.

bc: board of selectmen


Regarding that sentence in the rewritten ballot question that begins with “Rescission…” Following is an e-mail from the MA Department of Revenue, which has regulatory authority over the CPA. It is from Attorney Kathleen Colleary, Chief, Bureau of Municipal Finance Law, Division of Local Services, MA Department of Revenue, dated February 27, 2012:

"If the CPA is revoked, an analysis must be made to determine the fund's obligations and the amount of uncommitted monies available to meet them. The statute provides that the surcharge must continue to be assessed in order to accumulate the necessary funds to meet those obligations.G.L.c.44B,§16(b). In that regard, note that the town will also continue to get state trust fund distributions in any fiscal year after a year in which it assesses a surcharge. For example, if the last year assessed in FY13, the town would get a distribution in Oct. 2013 (FY14) based on the FY13 surcharge collections.

Once the CPA is revoked, the community must wrap up the fund. The CPA is no longer operational except to the extent that (1) fund obligations must be met and (2) any uncommitted monies available after reserving the monies needed to meet those obligations must still be appropriated for CPA purposes. The town's legislative body may appropriate those remaining funds for CPA purposes, alone or in combination with other financing sources, as it determines."

Kathleen Colleary, Chief
Bureau of Municipal Finance Law
Division of Local Services
Massachusetts Department of Revenue

With that statement, the Department of Revenue (DOR), which is the agency with regulatory authority over the CPA, says the surcharge continues, the revenues from the surcharge continue, and the matching funds continue. We got that same information from a couple different sources at DOR, not just a single source.

Remember when Sturbridge citizens adopted the CPA in 2002, we were told we could revoke it after 5 years? Everywhere you look, you will find all kinds of information about how to ADOPT the CPA, but there is no detailed information about how to REVOKE it. We’ve read the Community Preservation Act and the Department of Revenue’s Implementation Guidelines cover to cover; and we’ve made numerous phone calls and e-mails to state officials.

Most importantly, we followed the law and requested that Selectmen hire Town Counsel to write our CPA ballot question as required by the State Elections Division at the Secretary of State’s office. Selectmen denied us that right, they denied our right to due process, and they used sabotage and subterfuge to turn our NEUTRAL ballot question into a confusing, illusory piece of legalese. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that our rights, our choices, our voices – it’s all an illusion unless Selectmen AGREE with the issue – so much for having the right to choose how we spend our own money; and let’s not even go there about questioning government.

Don't be fooled: if you want to control spending, pay down the debt, and bring the CPA back at some point in the future, perhaps with a lower surcharge percentage, VOTE YES on Question 4.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Turn

Over the past few weeks I've shared this blog with those that have definite, and opposing opinions on the CPA.  Every once in a while I get a request to post an opinion on a topic affecting all of us here in town, and I "cut 'n paste" it into place here on Thinking Out Loud In Sturbridge.  I also include the words, "Submitted by...".  This is very important.  If someone has an opinion they want to stand behind, and ask me for a chance to post it then they have earned the right to have their opinion attached to their name.  Since I did not initiate the topic, and have no feelings I've shared publicly, I also open these pages up to the opposing view as well.

Fair's fair.

These submitted opinions are totally unlike the comment section under the postings.  In the comment section people can post their opinions anonymously, or under a pseudonym, and still offer up and opinion, and fan the fire storms of controversy as well.  Most like this anonymity, but only a few are  brave, and steadfast in their beliefs to submit a posting in their name.

Throughout the past few weeks, I've let the parties submit their positions, advertise their presentations, and petition signing locations, and let the comments fly in both directions like so many mud pies in the wind.

Today, I would like to offer some common sense to the mix, 'cuz that's what I do.  I get beyond the rhetoric, and just offer up what is logical, and makes the most sense.  Sometimes it can turn both parties around, and  tear apart my position, but if I can get two opposing parties on the same page for just a moment, then there is hope they can adapt, and develop something meaningful together.

I believe that we need to save our land from over developing.  I grew up up in an era where land was diced, and sliced up in countless subdivisions, and industrial parks, and so many thousands of acres were lost forever due to poor planning, for that time, and the future.  Out of my being a witness to this history comes my desire to conserve our resources, and preserve our history.

I also believe most of us feel the same way.  

The next part, the manner in which local conservation, and preservation is planned, and paid for, is the current bone of contention here in Sturbridge.  I am not going to rehash just what the CPA is, does, or promises to do now, nor am I going to go on about how some consider the CPA a credit card to years of indebtedness.  All I am going to do is state some obvious truths, and from there either side can insert them into their argument where they may.

  1. When a plan is made to purchase a tract of land, or preserve a bit of history, the entire plan is to be laid out.  All of it.  Every iota of the plan, and every bit of the arguments, explanations, and reasons for every part of the plan.  The plan should always include comparisons with other methods in order for the voter to make an informed decision.  Single pane vs. multi pane windows, passive vs. active recreation.  You know the drill.  Surprises should never be the epilogue to the best intentioned plans.
  2. The plan, and cost,  for maintaining the land, or building preservation should always be spelled out with the original plan.  Will volunteers always be responsible for maintaining the land, or will the town actually form a paid Parks Department, and proper explanations for both.  Again, there should be no surprises later on.
  3. And, finally, how is the project being paid for?  Town funds with 75-100% matching state funds?  That's easy.  Go for it.  Town funds with only 30% matching state funds, and paying for the project with a surcharge on property values over many, many years?  One needs to think twice about these choices.
  4. If the project is worthy, and the money, or method of payment is not there, or feasible, then move on.  You may want an indoor swimming pool at your home, or drive a $100,000 car, but unless you have the money in savings, a rich uncle, or a way to raise the cash without costing you a lot more over time, then rein it in, and change your plans.
That is not only logical, but just common sense.

Now, for the final bit.  As I said, I am all for proper conservation, and preservation projects, and I fully support those folks that put projects like this before the town for consideration.  I am also for full disclosure, and planning.  Those very same people should not only offer up the idea, but the entire plan for acquisition, implementation, long term maintenance, and ALL methods of paying for the project with ALL costs projected outward in order for Sturbridge residents to make the best informed decision.  I don't feel that leaving out information is intentional most of the time in order to sell a particular issue to the residents.  I do believe that some folks, and groups, are capable of only planning so much that they are skilled at, and fall apart with other parts because they may not know how to plan further.  Their group lacks that particular skill set.  

And, then there are the times that some parties are just out to get their project passed come hell, or high water, and screw the opposition. That happens, too.

What is the main issue, at present, is there are some that do not want the CPA to be used for any more purchases.  They feel the debt is too great, and that if there are other projects that are to be considered in the future, then other methods of paying for them, other than the CPA,  are needed.  The other side feels the opposite.  They do not  feel  the debt is more than expected, or what can be comfortably be paid for.  They also feel that without CPA funds the land purchases we have made over the past several years could not have been made.  

Some feel that we take care of all these purchased projects first before going on another shopping binge like some people do with  access to the Home Shopping Channel  after a bad breakup.

Now, all sides have expressed themselves well.  Their beliefs are intense, passionate in fact, and those that have shared their name on these pages are committed to their side of the issue.  When the choice comes to decide on whether we will continue in this direction, or not, use all the information at hand to make your choice.

One more thing, a bit off the subject.  I've read that the Town Meetings are stacked in favor of one side of an issue, or the other, since few choose to go to Town Meeting on a weekday evening.  That's historically true everywhere, but not unfixable.  We need to change Town Meetings to Saturdays so that it would be easier for more residents to attend these important meetings, and offer fewer excuses for not attending.  Those that are not in favor of allowing for more participation in town government by the towns residents by accommodating them with something as simple as changing the time to a weekend day has a more nefarious agenda.  It's not rocket surgery.  

Times have changed.  Life is busier, and Saturday meetings would help solve many issues we now face, the current one included.  I know, we tried to change the meetings to Saturdays last year, and failed.  Try again, and move on with running the town in a positive direction, expending energy in a positive way, and doing the best for those of us that live here, and come to visit us.

Enough posturing.  

Think about what present and future reward a project is to give to the town, and then think on how much is that reward worth.  If the reward is worth the price, then next come up up with a plan to pay for it that will not take away from that initial reward that got you all hot and bothered.  If you can't come up with an acceptable way to pay over an acceptable period of time, then move on.  

It's that simple.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's Time

It's mud season, not my favorite season, but a close second.  It's a time when change is imminent.  Like the crook of a crocus hunched over in the snow, and mud on Thursday, and fully upright and in bloom on Friday.  Not too attractive at first, but just wait.

The recent snowfall, although overdue according to some, does nothing to stop the arrival of mud season.  In fact, it may even enhance the seasons gift to us: mud.

It is now that the sap is running in the maples, and dripping into buckets around town.  Although, we aren't a leader in syrup production, we do alright.  It's a good feeling to seek out, and buy a local product instead of pulling an imported one off the shelf at Shaw's.

Mud season is exactly that.  The frozen ground melting as the suns angle increases, and is more in our favor.  Soon, the mud begins to dry, the puddles seep below the turf, and the buds begin to form on the trees.

Be alert.  Look for the signs of the change.  When you see them, it is like a tonic after a long winter with signs of life mostly hidden from view.

A different bird in the garden, small plants showing themselves through the mud, the smell of wet soil, and later, as the air warms a bit more, the peepers announce the official start of life renewed to us each evening.

A short, and simple season, but one with the most promise.

Be alert.  Look for the signs.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

An Invitation

The Sturbridge Community Preservation Committee 
invites you to attend 
a public informational presentation. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 
Sturbridge Town Hall 
7:00 pm 

In efforts to educate the public 
and share the facts of the CPA, 
the CPC will hold a presentation to explain 
the Community Preservation Act. 

The presentation will be shown live 
on Channel 11. 

We hope you will consider attending our 
presentation of the CPA. 

Submitted by Penny Dumas

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Just To Be Clear; More Information About The CPA

Submitted by Carol Childress.--ed.

Thank you very much for allowing me this space so that accurate information can be provided to Sturbridge taxpayers about the recent petition to revoke the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in Sturbridge. 

Over the last 11 years, the Community Preservation Act has prompted Sturbridge to complete many worthwhile projects. Those projects were all voted and approved by roughly 2-4% of the town’s population at various Town Meetings over the years. What voters probably didn’t know during this time – including me – is that once a community takes on long-term debt for CPA projects, as Sturbridge has, the choice and ability to remove the surcharge vanishes until the debt is paid off. The CPA is written in such a way that allows voters to revoke it after 5 years, thus removing the 3% surcharge from property tax bills. However, in our case, three Open Space purchases and the Town Hall/Center School projects were completed by taking loans; the total debt is $4.3 million, and we will be paying on those borrowings until 2026, 2017, and 2030, respectively. Therefore, that 3% surcharge will be on our tax bills until 2030 and the ability to remove the surcharge is no longer an option.

Of the 365 signatures gathered for the petition, 346 have been certified by the Town Clerk. Therefore, at the April 9 Town Election, voters will be asked if they wish to revoke the CPA. This year, the Town Election will be held at the Oliver Wight Tavern at Old Sturbridge Village; whether you are a proponent or opponent of the CPA, please go vote! 

I wish to clarify some misinformation that CPA proponents and supporters have been dispensing; in particular, the following bullets address recent comments by the leaders of our community, the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen at their February 27th meeting, as written in the 3/1/12 Tantasqua Town Common:
• Mary Dowling: Revoking the CPA does not “paralyze the town from spending on projects.” If the CPA is revoked, the ability to use it as a borrowing mechanism and creating more debt is eliminated. On an annual basis, if approved by voters, small and large projects can go forward after the annual debt service is paid. This is because the 3% surcharge is still collected and the matching funds continue to come to Sturbridge – as long as there is a match to be had. This information was verified with the Department of Revenue (DOR), the agency that has regulatory authority over the CPA. Spending will be limited by the amount of funds available in the local Community Preservation Fund or by whatever amounts that voters want to set aside and bank for spending on future projects.

The matching funds from “the state” are not “grant” funds. The money comes from taxpayers – all of us – whenever we buy or sell a home, refinance, discharge a mortgage, or record a deed or municipal lien certificate during a real estate transaction. Those funds are managed by the DOR, and before any of it is distributed to towns in the Commonwealth, we PAY the DOR 5% of that money for the expenses and personnel to administer and distribute the matching funds. That matching money comes from US – the taxpayers – WE fund the CPA on the front end with surcharges on our real estate transactions at the Registries of Deeds and also on the back end with the 3% surcharge on our tax bills.
• Mary Blanchard: We are in agreement that revoking the CPA does not “lower taxes.” But it will help to control spending; the people I have talked with are not under the impression that revoking the CPA lowers taxes and are aware that the 3% surcharge on their tax bills is there until 2030. 

• Priscilla Gimas: $50 absolutely does matter – to many people – and it can make a huge difference in many individual’s lives. There is no cost to Sturbridge if the CPA is revoked, unless one considers going into hock for surplus projects a “cost” or “devastating.” Ms. Gimas, referring to the town of Northampton, is further quoted as saying: “the town [Northampton] tried to revoke the CPA, failed and then saw their bond rating rise.”  With all due respect, I must strongly disagree: according to the town of Northampton’s own press release dated 11/28/11, Moody’s Rating Service assigned an Aa2 rating attributable to Northampton’s “stable tax base, strong tax collections rates, recent appropriations to the stabilization fund and the fact that free cash was not used to balance the budgets in FY2011 or FY2012.”  However, in an 11/30/11 news article, it says Moody’s Rating Service recalibrated its ratings scale a few years ago, and the Aa2 bond rating is actually equivalent to an A1 rating, which is LESS THAN the A+ rating given to the town by the Standard and Poor’s Rating Service in 2010. Rather, the context of the CPA as mentioned in the town’s press release relates to support from the community – NOT specifically to the CPA and its bond rating.

Of utmost importance is taxpayer’s presence and participation at our annual Town Elections and Town Meetings. Resident’s our attendance and votes at Town Meetings influence how much and which pots of money are spent on small and large projects in our town, both CPA-related and non-CPA related. There are just over 9,000 residents in our town, yet only 200-400 people attend these. Please: participate and help to make spending decisions. Your vote DOES matter!

Carol Childress