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 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: http://www.examiner.com/tea-party-in-boston/sturbridge-and-the-community-preservation-act-part-1. 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"
To: christmas59@charter.net, dholland_1@charter.net
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
_______________________
Shaun A. Suhoski
Town Administrator
Town of Sturbridge
308 Main Street, Town Hall
Sturbridge, MA 01566
(508) 347-2500
(508) 347-5886 (fax)
ssuhoski@town.sturbridge.ma.us
**********************************************************
NOTE: EMAILS MAY BE CONSIDERED A PUBLIC RECORD.
ü 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
617-626-2400
DLSLAW@dor.state.ma.us
*****


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.

19 comments:

  1. You would think that the least a summary on a ballot question would make the question easier to understand. In this case it confuses and misleads.
    I'm simplifying the situation for myself. Simply put: Do I want to revoke the CPA? YES!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've noticed that at least one person on the board of selectmen has changed an oft spouted piece of advise, which, in effect, was to remember that when someone tells you that a purchase is only pennies a day, or a few dollars a month, not to forget that there are many other things in your life that cost only pennies a day or a few dollars a month. Add them all up and they spell trouble.
    It may cost me only $8 a month for the CPA part of my taxes at the moment, but I'll never use the trails and all the land we bought up. If I desired to spend an extra $8 a month for something I would use, I could have subscribed to Netflix.

    ReplyDelete
  3. One last comment: I am all for the democratic process and competition is healthy. Having said that, for this ballot question, petitioners stood outside for weeks on weekends in freezing temperatures to talk with Sturbridge citizens, and everywhere we went, we were constantly pestered by Open Space and Community Preservation Committee members, and members of the Conservation Commission. They would drive around town to find us, call their friends, and show up en masse. At the Recycle Center, we were outnumbered 10 to 2; they rudely walked into and interrupted our conversations with people, so we stopped going there. In one instance, Ed & Carol Goodwin (both are members of the Open Space, Conservation Commission, and Community Preservation Committees) threatened the Shaw’s store manager with taking their business away if they weren’t allowed to stand next to us at Shaws Supermarket.

    Ultimately, the store manager told them they could reserve that spot if they wished but they couldn’t stay, at which point, Mr. Goodwin handed over his Shaws card and rudely walked away.

    The disrespect heaped upon that poor Shaws manager was appalling and after we finished that day, WE apologized to him for any grief he had experienced. How pathetic and sad; but it’s indicative of the kind of sabotage and subterfuge we now see in our Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Unbelievable! I signed that petition. I understand the facts. The way the question is presented on the ballot is unacceptable. Misleading, deceptive, and FALSE! Someone should be held responsible for twisting the truth.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Stuff and BotherSunday, March 25, 2012

    People of Sturbridge and Fiskdale, the next time someone tries to intimidate you for standing your ground, remember THEY are the ones who are wrong - not because of their issue or cause, but because of their actions. Their actions alone should make you feel like you have the upper hand in the situation. Just as you would flick away a pesky house fly with a wave of the hand, tell them to buzz off. Let them look down their long noses at someone else, who hopefully will also tell them to buzz off. I will vote YES to revoke the CPA, and can't wait to be done with their stuff and bother.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Do you think the selectmen who have been so vocal about the CPA misrepresentation issues will mention that the ballot is worded incorrectly? After so much talk, if they find the ballot summary to be controversial, incorrect, misleading, and/or outright false, they should say something publicly. I'm all ears.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Does anyone know who paid for the "Vote no on Ballot 4 signs" that are popping up all over town?

    ReplyDelete
  8. When allegations are made the silence can be deafening.

    Why would that be?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wally said:
    "When allegations are made the silence can be deafening.

    Why would that be?"

    Perhaps the spinning wheel broke.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Okay, people, do you think the ballot summary regarding Question 4 is easily understandable for the average voter?
    What do you think this tells us about the state match? Do you think this summary is telling you that we will or will not still get the state match if the CPA is revoked? Try the summary on your friends and family, those who don't already know the correct answer. I did. Surprise! They didn't understand.

    4. Shall the Town of Sturbridge revoke its acceptance of sections 3 to 7, inclusive, of chapter 44B of the
    General Laws, as proposed by a petition signed by at least five percent of the registered voters of this Town, a
    summary of which appears below?
    The Community Preservation Act (“CPA”), G.L. c.44B, establishes a dedicated funding source to: acquire,
    create and preserve open space and land for recreational use; acquire, preserve, rehabilitate and restore
    historic resources; acquire, create, preserve and support community housing; and rehabilitate and restore open
    space, land for recreational use and community housing that is acquired or created in accordance with the CPA.
    The Town accepted the CPA at the 2001 Annual Town Election, approving assessment of a surcharge of 3% on
    the annual tax levy on real property and exempting the first $100,000 of the value of each taxable parcel of
    residential real property. Each year, the Town has spent or set aside at least 10% of the estimated annual
    revenues, which include the surcharge and matching funds provided by the state, for each of the three
    purposes of the CPA. 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.

    ReplyDelete
  11. hmmmm...seems the truth about this here conspiracy ain't what's written here...fact is after reading the truth elsewhere there's a whole lotta hogwash being spoken here instead of common sense...ya'll need to get out a tad more.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Put on yer thinkin hatTuesday, March 27, 2012

    Dear Uncle Fester,
    Hogwash!
    If anyone who reads the summary by the ballot question above can tell from that summary that if the CPA is revoked,YES,THE STATE MATCH WILL CONTINUE UNTIL THE DEBT IS PAID OFF, he didn't read it in the summary. It is very misleading. Fester, ya'll need to look, listen and read a tad more. If you even jes' sit up straight and pay attenshion, ya'll might learn sumthin'.
    Let me repeat: As long as the state has matching funds to dole, out we will continue to get matching funds, with or without revocation of the CPA. Simple enuf fer ya, Fester?

    ReplyDelete
  13. The Vote NO signs are being paid for with donations from residents in Sturbridge. There's a website out there that CPA proponents are using to spread the word; I've heard it's run by the Goodwins. You know, the people that don't do business at Shaws anymore?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Alas and Alack...Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    Anonymous made mention of those he or she claims are "people that don't do business at Shaws anymore."
    If the same people, who were so opposed to The Center at Hobb's Brook (where Stop and Shop is located), refuse to shop at Shaw's, I wonder which "local" grocery store gets their business. I mean, it's a real shame that the town they are still "saving" mustn't even have a grocery store they feel they can patronize.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Why's childres posting under all these aliases? Guess that's what you do when your losing support. Pathetic how she's attacking good people she was so budy budy with.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous, why are you pretending that you can't spell?

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  17. LOL! He is such an ass.

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  18. I am not and never have been buddy-buddy with the Goodwins. They have been acquaintances of mine in the past, as I sat on some of the same committees with them in town; but I never socialized with them or had conversations with them on a regular basis. Their phone number isn't etched into my cell phone, nor are there e-mail addresses. Only buddy-buddies do that.

    Why not add something of substance, some facts on this issue that we can all benefit from, instead of resorting to making unsubstantiated personal attacks?

    ReplyDelete
  19. If anyone wants a "Vote YES on Ballot Question 4 - Revoke the CPA" sign, please contact me: childresscarol@rocketmail.com. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete



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