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.



  1. Intersesting info but only half the story. Tax rate plus assesment equeals the tax bill. From the DOR website average tax bill Wellesley FY11 11,281 average tax bill Northborough 5,972 state average 4,537 Sturbridge average tax bill 4,370. The rate may look great in Wellesley but I sure wouldn't want to pay the bill.

  2. In the United States we generally get what we pay for. If you want low taxes that's fine, as long as you are willing to settle for inferior services. If you want to drive a brand new Mercedes don't think you can buy it for $15,000. If you want a top notch school system, professional police & fire departments and well maintained roads you have to be willing to pay for them. The taxes that the average single family pays in real estate taxes in Wellesley is 2.5 times what we pay in taxes here in Sturbridge. Unfortunately, if you want quality you have to pay for it. For the most part none of us would want to live in an area where the taxes are extremely low.

  3. Who wants a Mercedes?Saturday, March 31, 2012

    Dear Anonymous,
    How many people in Sturbridge WANT to drive a brand new Mercedes??? To your way of thinking a Ford is inferior. To my way of thinking, a good old Ford or Chevy is very good, and much more sensible. As a matter of fact I would even rather buy something decent in the $15,000 range you mentioned than a luxury car.
    The argument in town, lately, as well you know is about CPA funds, spent on things we don't need. If they had been spent on needed things a whole lot more would have been spent on affordable housing. Now some of the CPA people are telling us that revoking the CPA would take away the option to spend on affordable housing. Are they kidding? They have had that opportunity for years. Compared to what the CPA spent for wants and desires, the amount spent on making this community more affordable amounts to one of those little yellow holes you see in the snow on a winter's day.
    We have a good police force, good schools and the means we need for better roadways.
    Some of the BOS and CPA folks are going around saying things like, "Nothing is free. You get what you pay for." No kidding! Do they think we believe otherwise? The problem is we get to pay for too many things we don't need.
    Of course, people have to VOTE to allow the spending of town dollars, but part of the problem is that the messages they get are filtered, incomplete, skewed, and manipulated, by many who know better than to do that.

  4. I have heard "affordable housing" and the CPA in the same sentence a few times. What has been spent on affordable housing? I dont know of any affordable housing projects in the town except for a little bit of Habitat for Humanity.

    When it comes to reeling in the spending the FY13 draft annual town meeting warrant is now posted online.

    There are a few areas that offer substantial savings with the correct votes.

    YEs on article 29, voting to keep FY 13 spending at FY 12 budget levels.

    No on Article 31, purchase of 310 Main st for 315.000 plus untold dollars for future repairs.

    No on 74,000 for two new cruisers. Just take a look at the PD parking lot at any given time, i have not seen less than 5 cruisers in the lot over the past 6 months.

    No on Chief Fords command vehicle. 40,725 in savings. Hes a heck of a nice guy, but his truck is something i would be happy to drive, stay with it until its ready to die like i do with vehicles.

    No on article 12 the Commercial Tourist District Plan. Saving 120,000 dollars.

    That's a total of 549,725 dollars in savings, and there are more cuts that could be made. Go the Meeting and be heard.

  5. Well thought out.I how others take a bit of time, as you have, and look over the warrant prior to town meeting.

  6. Residents really need to study it and prepare statements if so desired. I think a lot of the debt we have accumulated over the years could have been avoided if residents were more educated prior to the annual town meeting.

    Article 29, keeping the spending at 2011 levels would save the residents an additional 1,070,089. That coupled with the 549,752 is a move in the right direction.

    Tell your friends and neighbors, i would love to have to stand at the town meeting because all the seats are taken.

  7. Wrong chief. Chief Senecal is the Fire Chief it is the Fire Chief vehicle in the warrant, Chief Ford is the Police Chief.

  8. I stand corrected on the Chief, thanks for that.

  9. The main reason commercial values have dropped is that Sturbridge in KNOWN for NOT being business freindly. 5 selectmen, not one business person on the board.We need people who understand how business works. You want a lower tax rate learn to become business friendly and just maybe we could loose our negative reputation.It's proven the best way to lower residential taxes is to increase the commercial base something this board hasn't been able to do. They make a lot of noise but show little action.

  10. Dear Anonymous # 1 & 2

    I wish to thank you for your comments and figures, as you validated my points with the Mercedes statement along with the total tax bills of the Towns of Wellesley, Northborough and Sturbridge. Taking your key figures, below is the breakdown in layman's terms:

    The individual driving the Mercedes in Wellesley has a tax bill of $11,281.00 ($11.49 rate); he/she is living in a home worth $981,000.00

    The individual driving the Cadillac in Northborough has a tax bill of $5,972.00 ($14.99 rate); he/she is living in a home worth $398,000.00

    The individual driving the Kia in Sturbridge has a tax bill of $ 4,370.00 ($17.63 rate); he/she is living in a home worth $247,000.00

    Proving my correlation that lower taxes results in higher real estate values plus additional revenue to the town.

    If my house was worth approximately a Million Dollars I would be bragging that I am only paying $11,281.00. In retrospect, look how much we are overpaying in the Town of Sturbridge.

    By presenting my information regarding Wellesley is in order to compare "Apples to Apples" regarding the Services that the Town of Wellesley provides their residents against the services provided to us, in the Town of Sturbridge, which is considerably less services for our residents.

    The public education services of the town are very well regarded, especially Wellesley High School; in 2007 it was ranked 70th best public high school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, earning a Gold Medal.

    Wellesley also contains the main campus of 3 colleges, Wellesley College, a women's liberal arts college, Massachusetts Bay Community College, a two-year public college, and Babson College, a business college. According to, Wellesley College is the 6th best college in the country. According to US News & World Report, Babson College is the number one college in the country for entrepreneurship, receiving this distinction for the past fourteen years. In addition, The Financial Times ranked Babson College as the 5th best U.S. college for providing custom executive education programs.

    Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Diane Sawyer, Katharine Hepburn and Madeleine K. Albright among some of the graduates of Wellesley College.

    Wellesley has had rail service to Boston since 1833. These days rail service is provided through Wellesley's participation in the MBTA, which offers a total of 17 weekday Commuter Rail trains inbound towards Boston & outbound towards Framingham & Worcester.

  11. Steve,

    I assume you are not a math major. People who can afford to live in mansions and drive $75,000 cars don't make decisions on choice of hometowns based on tax considerations. If they did the towns of Dover, Sherborn and Weston would be empty and the town of Rowe would have hundreds of thousands residents.

    Rich people want to live in attractive towns with quality school systems. Rich people want to live in waterfront communities. Rich people aren't going to dissuaded from living in classy towns even when the tax tab is 3 or 4 times what it is in Sturbridge.

  12. Dear Anonymous:

    I read your post, so why are these towns have a lower tax rate than Sturbridge. As I see your mentioning Weston, and their rate is $12.11...

    Please explain how they can do it as you say they want a attractive town with quality school system and all the bells and whistles...

  13. Steve,

    You don't seem to understand there are two factors to look at when discussing taxation, tax rate and assessed valuation. The average family in Weston pays 3X what the average family in Sturbridge pays in real estate taxes. The towns with great services pay great taxes. What can't you understand?

  14. Dear Anonymous:

    You still have not answered my question, why is their rate so much lower than ours, if you state that Weston is a great town? Regarding services -- what do we have? We don't have rail service and other public services and amenities that mentioned towns provide. Plus your closing statement that "The towns with great services pay great taxes". Well, this speaks for itself -- where are Sturbridge's "great services". In essence, you still haven't answered my initial question of why the good residents of Sturbridge pay such a high rate of taxes. As you state, "you don't seem to understand....."


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