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

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.


  1. The Numbers GameSaturday, March 31, 2012

    Thanks for your true cost article. Good for you! How about that! This is exactly what no one ever wants to admit when they are so intent on getting everything borrowed money can buy. It reminds me of gamblers who brag about all the money they've won, without any consideration of what they've spent.
    I don't understand why we always borrow to the hilt, so we are in a position to borrow to the hilt plus another 2 1/2% or 4.8% or whatever next year. What can happen? Well, a state match, for instance, may be reduced and we may be left upside-down...hmmm, sounds familiar.
    I find it interesting, also, that, if what I heard is correct, the Center School is now valued at three hundred and something thousand dollars, even though we spent something like 1.7 million dollars on it.
    Maybe we can make the money back on all the tourists who will, supposedly, ultimately flood to our trails and who will give us a quarter of one percent tax on their restaurant meals. If they bring their food in their backpacks, perhaps they will just scatter coins along the trails as a little thank you. You never know, right?
    But, the more trails, the more conservation agent costs, the more trails, the more police-related incidents, the more trails, the more strangers in the woods...
    Enough, all ready. Spend the money that is still held, because it was not spent, as required by law, on affordable public housing. Pay off the debts. Stop. Enough.
    Vote YES to revoke the CPA!

  2. The Numbers GameSaturday, March 31, 2012

    Oops! I meant to say "affordable housing" where I said "affordable public housing" above.

  3. The more "honest" the figures get, the more astounding they become. I hope this information will be printed in the newspaper prior to election day.

  4. Fellow Citizen of SturbridgeSaturday, March 31, 2012

    Dear Anonymous,
    Please pass the info on to your friends and neighbors, and tell them to vote YES to revoke the CPA. Thanks.

  5. Steve GreenbergSunday, April 01, 2012

    "but at least with revocation of the CPA the debt will not continue to grow."

    You can say anything you want to say, but unless you can explain why this statement is true, it is just another set of meaningless words strung together.

  6. She spoke correctlySunday, April 01, 2012

    Dear Steve Greenberg,
    You quoted from the article: "but at least with revocation of the CPA the debt will not continue to grow." Then you asked for the statement to be explained. How could it not be true? If the CPA doesn't borrow more money, it's debt cannot grow. If you borrow $5 from me and borrow no more, do you then not still owe me $5?
    You seem to be attempting to add words which are not there into the statement of another person.
    Please don't do that.

  7. I've heard it allSunday, April 01, 2012

    To Steve Greenberg,
    Some of the people we know in common have been making this statement: "Those people (who would revoke the CPA) want everythng, but don't want to pay for it." NOT TRUE! "Those" people do not want "everything." That is why they are voting to revoke the CPA. We "want" our needs met, yes, but we do not "want" to meet all of the desires of those who claim to be marketing this town to make money on backpackers. If you want to go tit for tat, I could suggest that some folks just want buffers for their own properties.

  8. I guess the debt WILL continue to grow as close to one and three quarter million dollars in interest accumulates on the "borrowed" CPA funds. What don't you get, Steve?

  9. Everyone would win!Sunday, April 01, 2012

    Suggestion: The folks, who want more and more funds to make this town their idea of perfect, could get together and buy up a big piece of Sturbridge land and a few old buildings. They could work on these to their hearts' content and pay taxes on the property. They would have their own Utopia in Sturbridge and the town would have more tax money to address needs. It would be a win-win situation - if they could decide on which of their neighborhoods would get to abut the Utopian project.

  10. I send thanks to Selectmen Chairman, Mr. Thomas Creamer, for calling attention to the citizen’s CPA revocation petition, n/k/a Ballot Question #4, and also for allowing voters to see how legal reasoning easily overrides moral reasoning, depending on the political issue at hand.

    There are similarities in moral reasoning and legal reasoning but there are also exceptions both ways. Both are often prescriptive – they tell us what we should do – and both play a role in guiding our conduct. However, the actual content of the law is MORALLY NEUTRAL.

    At the last Selectmen’s meeting, Selectmen Chairman Tom Creamer stated that the ballot question to revoke the CPA – which includes a false statement and was rewritten by the town's lawyers without notice to the petitioners – was “completely legal.” Whenever a politician is compelled to say a ballot question is “completely legal,” people should question if it’s morally reasonable.

    Voters – do not be fooled by the following statement in the ballot question, “Rescission of the CPA will mean that the town will not collect the surcharge or matching funds from the state.” The unfortunate reality is, because of the $4.3 million debt we owe, the 3% surcharge is on your tax bill until 2030; and because the surcharge continues, the matching funds also continue – as long as they are available.

    How sad and unfortunate, pathetic actually, that the town’s lawyers and leaders didn’t see fit to make that clear to you, the voters, who are paying for the CPA on both ends of that money chain.

    Vote YES on April 9th at the Town Election, at the Oliver Wight Tavern at Old Sturbridge Village.

  11. We're not talking about creating a Utopia we're talking about continuing to make Sturbridge a desirable place to live and raise kids. If you're only concerned with paying low taxes you should consider moving to Rowe where the real estate tax per family is less than $2,000.00 per year.

  12. YES! We want to have control over unnecessary spending in Sturbridge. YES, one good way of doing that is in voting to revoke the CPA. YES, we realize now that a we owe well over $4 million dollars, because the CPC (with the approval of Town Meetings) borrowed money in addition to surcharges we have paid on our property taxes for many years now. YES, we know that we will pay much more than that $4 million in debt because we will, of course, continue to pay interest on the loans. YES, we will go to the polls. YES, we will vote to revoke the CPA. YES! YES! YES!
    Do we want to slow the needless spending? YES! Vote carefully, and remember, though the language in the summary is murky, VOTE YES!

  13. Did you all receive the cute pamphlet in the mail today? The committee to Support Sturbridge CPA means business. There is a lot of information that is questionable or misleading. Im sure there are a lot of facts , but the real FACT is that we are in the hole big time.

    I think its great that we built a Habitat for Humanity house, these low income residents better have a good stream of cash flowing in so they can pay their tax bill.

    Many of the purchases that were funded with CPA funds are going to require more spending down the road. I shutter to think how much our trail system is going to cost in the future. Using the CPA funds in the future for the goals of the Commercial Tourist Revitalization Plan will tack on many millions of dollars if voted on.

    Saying that we will save on taxes if we fund projects with CPA funds rather than funding through taxes is a ridiculous statement in my opinion. The point is we still have to PAY, this is the kind of statement that gives people the notion that CPA funds are free.

    How is having the CPA CRITICAL to our municipal fiscal health. I would think that we would be more fiscally healthy if we were less in debt rather than more, maybe i just don't understand the financial system.

  14. When is deal not a "deal"?Monday, April 02, 2012

    I think the pro CPA folks are trying to convince the rest of us that if we have a chance of getting a certain percentage off the price of something we don't need, we should jump at the chance to get the discount. As we've seen, the amount of the "discount" or state match has dropped through the years from 100% to a little over 40%, and could drop to nothing at all.

    It looks to me that the program began as a stimulus to get the towns to spend money, thus putting more money into the State economy. What ever it was, we bought into the plan, program or scheme or whatever you would like to call it. To my mind, the whole thing got out of hand here in town.
    Perhaps the parents of our pro CPA people never taught them that even if you do manage to get a good buy on something you don't need, you still don't need it.
    Please vote "YES" to revoke the CPA.

  15. Don't bother telling us where to goWednesday, April 04, 2012

    To Anonymous who wrote:
    "We're not talking about creating a Utopia we're talking about continuing to make Sturbridge a desirable place to live and raise kids. If you're only concerned with paying low taxes you should consider moving to Rowe where the real estate tax per family is less than $2,000.00 per year."

    May I suggest that "continuing to make Sturbridge a desirable place to live" does not mean we need to have the CPA spending money on things we don't need.

    Good learning opportunities and family caring do not depend on the desire or the ability of the other folks in town to pay for stuff we don't need.

    Some people talk about others feeling "entitled," and when they do, they are usually speaking of people who get government assistance of some sort. BUT there are some of you who are raising your children to feel "entitled" to everything their little hearts desire, by getting the rest of us to pay for more and more in the way of super-duper extra ball fields, zillions of trails, slate roofs, windows which make no sense at all in this day and age, and so much more.

    Anonymous suggests that we might want to move to Rowe because of lower taxes. I suggest that Anonymous build his or her own little Never Never Land and staff it with highly paid one-on-one tutors for the kids, right on his or her own property.

    If Sturbridge isn't good enough, we do have highways that can take him or her anywhere else he or she would rather go.

  16. I just wanted to let everyone know what our future has in store for us, taxwise. The link below will take you a list of downloadable documents at the town's website. Once there, look for FY13 5-Yr Revenue Forecast.

    Go to page 4 at the very bottom. Look at the forecast taxrates and property values and follow them across the page from FY2013 to FY2017. I'll save you trouble, here it is:

    Our current $17.63 tax rate is forecast to increase to $19.13 for FY2013. Thereafter, the town administrator optimistically forecasts that property values will increase by roughly $16,500,000 each year out to 2017, while the tax rate is forecast to increase as follows: FY14: $19.67; FY15: $19.67; FY16: $19.99; FY17: 20.56. (Source: 5-Yr Revenue Projections by Shaun Suhoski, Town Administrator)

    Vote YES on Question 4!

  17. Ooops, I made a booboo! FY14 is forecast to be $19.38, not $19.67.

  18. Steve GreenbergSunday, April 08, 2012

    "If the CPA doesn't borrow more money, it's debt cannot grow. If you borrow $5 from me and borrow no more, do you then not still owe me $5?"

    If I never borrow $5 from you and never borrow another cent, it does not stop your moocher brother in law from borrowing more money from you than he already has.

    If you want to stop the borrowing, you have to do something at Town Meeting.

    If somebody throws a rock at you, you don't slap the person standing next to you just because you can't reach the person who threw the rock. If the person who threw the rock dislikes the person you slapped, they might just throw more rocks.

  19. Steve,

    In real life, the first thing that creditors do to stop the borrowing is to take away the credit card. That action then forces people to make more prudent spending decisions. We feel that if spending has to occur, it should be items that bring revenues INTO the town versus those that take revenues OUT of the town.

    So at Town Meeting, when frivolous spending items come up, I promise you, voters will "do something" at Town Meeting.

    The ONLY reason to keep the CPA is borrow more money, and the CPA's permitted uses only allow spending on open space, historic and affordable housing. Those are WANTS, they are not NEEDS, in comparison to bridge repairs, a waterline down Route 15, and other necessary items the town NEEDS.

    How about you address the $66,000 in playground equipment that was purchased in 2008 with CPA funds, when the CPA doesn't allow such things to be purchased; that was decided by both the Superior and Supreme Courts in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

    Or, how about you address the thousands of dollars of CPA money spent and wasted on designing $2.5 million dollar ballfields on conservation land?

    Or, how about you address the fact that none of four properties purchased with CPA money have the required Conservation Restrictions on them, and yet, thousands of CPA dollars have been on improving those parcels without benefit of the required oversight inherent in a conservation restriction? This is a violation of the law and technically, those four acquisitions are considered incomplete.

    Beyond the discussion about throwing rocks and slapping, did you know that revenues collected through the surcharge are not counted for the purposes of establishing limits on the local tax levy imposed by Proposition 2 1/2?

    Please, help me to understand how that is acceptable when our property values continue to drop, the tax rate is increasing, and yet, the town administrator forecasts that the tax rate will continue to increase between 25 and 57 cents per thousand out to 2017, while the property valuations will also increase in the same time period.

    Silly me, I always thought that when property values increased, tax rates decreased but that is apparently not the case according to the town administrators report.

    I look forward to your response.

  20. Who are the MOOCHERS and ROCK THROWERS?Sunday, April 08, 2012

    I just don't get Steve's worries about "moochers and rock throwers." Is he calling the people who want the CPA money spent for their own desires moochers? The people who don't want these things and who will vote to revoke the CPA certainly aren't the moochers.

    As for "rock throwers," who does he suggest are the rock throwers? The folks who never wanted this stuff in the first place? Are they considered rock throwers if they still don't want to spend money on things we don't need? Does he think that the people who didn't realize that the CPA (yes, through Town Meeting votes) had put us so far into debt are rock throwers because they want to put a stop to this?
    I contend that certain CPA backers are trying to turn the tables by saying that the rest of us, and I quote, "want everything, but don't want to pay for it." That is just not so! The problem is that THEY want more and more and THEY want US to help fund their desires.
    Vote "YES" to revoke the CPA.

  21. Carol and all that voted yes. Thanks for getting this important question on the ballot. It is unfortunate that we didnt get question 4 passed. We will have to be vigilant in the years to come to try and curb spending. I am sure that every town meeting will have some warrants looking for CPA funds. Even though article 4 did not pass it sure did raise the awareness of our debt. I think that people will be more conscience of the fact that CPA funds are not free and are not much of a discount.

  22. The voters acted in an intelligent manner in preserving the CPA in Sturbridge. The criticisms of the way the town manages the money it receives from the CPA is irrelevant to whether the CPA should be preserved or revoked. The answer is to preserve the CPA and be vigilant on how the funds are spent. Just because the Commonwealth allots a certain amount of funds to Sturbridge via the CPA doesn't mean those funds have to be spent every year. Some towns actually have a CPA surplus because they don't feel the need to spend the money just because it is available. The CPA used correctly would tend to reduce the tax burden not increase it. I also agree with the last poster that if we are more vigilant about spending then the Question #4 controversy will have had a positive impact on the Town of Sturbridge.

  23. Cloudy with Chance of SpendingWednesday, April 11, 2012

    Anonymous wrote:
    "... The answer is to preserve the CPA and be vigilant on how the funds are spent. Just because the Commonwealth allots a certain amount of funds to Sturbridge via the CPA doesn't mean those funds have to be spent every year..."

    We have had the CPA for many years now. We are deeply in debt.
    Because of previous actions and misleading explanations to the voters (over and over again), I am not happy that we continue to risk the future.
    How many were told that their own surcharge payments over a twenty year span would equal $660 for the Old Sturbridge Village property alone. Not only is the Village tax exempt, now we are each assessed $660 to walk on the land we bought from them. How many folks are using that land?


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