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

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.


  1. Hey! Are you psychic or something? I just found out today there will be a warrant article at the (is it June?) Town Meeting asking voters if they want Town Meetings on Saturdays!

    Also, I learned of another petition that will place a question on the warrant to ask voters if they want to...wait for it...wait for it...purchase the building next door to town hall for MORE town offices. This petition was apparently brought forward by EMPLOYEES at town hall. That building is currently uninhabitable and even has mushrooms growing in it; so there's the purchase price of...I think $320,000 plus the cost to gut rehab.

    I thought all town employees and/or department heads had input into the renovations and new offices at town hall & center school?

    Wally, thanks for allowing me the space to pass important information on to voters about the CPA. I appreciate it, and I'm sure other residents and your readers do as well.

  2. Stop the bus, already!Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Wally, thanks for seeing the world as it is and for reporting it as it is. It seems that some, who we would look at as learned individuals, either cannot or will not think beyond a certain point, and there lies the problem. They present themselves as so well versed in their current projects that they fluff up their feathers when someone asks,"If we continue on this path, what comes next?"

    It's only natural in a situation like that in which we find ourselves with the CPA spending and debt, to ask these questions. The non-answers we've heard, and the grandiose suggestions for what may come next are not acceptable to many of us.
    We are already being told that the public will have to understand that these projects will need more funding than CPA money, through more taxation to continue on the desired "path."

    There were supposed to be methods to stop this bus if we wanted to get off, but no matter how hard we pull the cord, the driver(s) seem to keep the petal to the metal and even as the gas runs out, get refueled with loans on the fly.

    So, I ask, what do WE suppose should come next?

  3. Carol is wrong about the petition article to purchase the house next to Town Hall. It was not brought forward by Town Hall employees nor is the house uninhabtable.There are presently people living there.

  4. 1+1 doesn't equal 2 any longerWednesday, March 14, 2012

    Our taxes, though supposedly limited at an increase 2.5%, are expected to be at 4.8% with the coming budget, PLUS the 3% surcharge on top of that and yet we are considered to still be at the 2.5% limit.
    How does that happen? Well, we have the debt exclusion(s), for things like the new school, and we have the CPA 3% tax surcharge on our property taxes, beyond the first $100,000 assessment of our homes. So 4.8% plus a 3% surcharge on the taxes mentioned above equals 2.5%.
    If we don't all understand that math, or don't like that math, we need to be doing something to slow things down. Yes, we are stuck paying the CPA debt until the year 2030, but there are some who are somehow rationalizing that we should leave our methods as they are, as they have been, while all this CPA spending has taken place, and that we should just depend on every town meeting to be well attended thus prevent over spending. Isn't the definition of "crazy" doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

    We even voted for Saturday town meetings to make it easier for a well-rounded sample of individuals to attend the Town Meetings. It was quite contentious and we lost by just 1 (ONE) vote. Did the moderator then even suggest a re-count? No! Did he hear the called out request for a recount? No, I guess not. Are the selectmen and the CPA listening to us now? No, it seems not. Are the selectmen's meetings becoming advertisements for the CPA?
    It looks that way to me.

  5. 1+1 doesn't equal 2 any longerWednesday, March 14, 2012

    I heard that the petition was brought forth by a local builder who had been on the Town Hall/Center School Renovation Committee, who along with another local builder, also on that committee, were not listened to, when they voiced their opinions about how the job should have been done.
    Perhaps town employees who agreed with these builders, or who wish they had known what was going on at the time (Where did the minutes reside?) did sign the petition?

  6. I was told by a reliable source that the petition was signed by several town employees. However, maybe my reliable source has made an error in her understanding of the situation? The best way to really know is to check the signatures on the petition.

    As for habitability: there may be people living in it; that doesn't mean it meets the standards for habitability normally required in a dwelling unit. I prefer mushrooms IN my salad.

    Also, during my phone conversation with the town's Finance Director, she said that if the CPA was revoked, it might be possible to pay off the debt earlier than 2030. My understanding is, without anymore spending, the surcharge and matching funds will collect much faster (the debt must be paid first and the matching funds will hopefully hold at a reasonable percentage), then the debt can then be "recalled" in 2017 when the Riverlands debt is paid off, and it's possible to shuffle the debt at that time with new bonding that allows early payoff. Let me be clear: she did not take a position one way or another with regard to revoking the CPA. And if my understanding of this is incorrect, please correct me.

    Also, I just wanted to stress one more point with regard to the matching funds: it is NOT grant money and it is not a "state-matching fund." The money is NOT from the state. It is money collected when fees and surcharges are paid for real estate transactions at the Registries of Deeds and it's citizens like you and me that pay those fees. For example, when I refinanced in November 2010, it cost $275; that money went to pay for recording the documents but there's also a fee built in that goes to the state-managed CPA fund.

    Maybe we should consider how the brick sidewalks were funded? When that project was considered by Selectmen, those who voted in favor of it made it very clear that those funds came from Chapter 90 funds, which are license and fees collected at the Registries of Motor Vehicles. The statements made by local officials at that time clearly stated to Sturbridge voters that the brick sidewalk money came from those fees and not from local tax revenues.

    However, at the last Selectmen's meeting, the Chairman said whether it's grant money, state-matching money or whatever, it all comes from taxpayers. Really? Is it different now because Selectmen want to keep the CPA?

    In fact, when Selectmen discussed the brick sidewalks in 2010 and 2011, they established a "funding ceiling" so that the final cost of the brick sidewalks would not exceed a reasonable amount. The brick sidewalks cost $131,000; CPA projects have cost millions.

    My question is: why hasn't a ceiling been placed on spending with CPA projects? Looking at the Provincetown, MA CPC webpage, they've done just that - they've placed a ceiling on spending because they want to pay down the debt and they've put it front and center for everyone of their citizens to see. To quote Wally, this is not rocket surgery.

  7. Just one last note: the assessed value of that building next door to Town Hall is $204,600. I imagine that value is current and is based on sales of similar properties.

    So, why the purchase price of $315,000? Is there extra money built into the price to gut rehab the property? Or is the price just too high?

  8. Pay Close Attention!Saturday, March 24, 2012

    I think it's time to ask questions again! It seems that the ballot section on this matter is worded incorrectly. The absentee ballots may have already gone out. (I'm told they have gone out.)
    The summary on the ballot question reads, in part:
    "Rescission of the CPA will mean that the Town WILL NOT collect the surcharge or matching
    funds from the state."
    I believe that the rescission of the CPA would mean that the Town WILL still collect on the surcharge and matching funds from the state until the debt we owe is paid off!
    So, if the ballot is wrong, WHAT NOW?

  9. What now? Vote Yes on Ballot Question 4! :)


Anonymous comments not accepted, and will be rejected. Please use your full name. Choose "Name / URL" and enter your name, and your name ONLY. Leave "URL" blank.