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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Consider It Nipped

I get an "occasional" email about something someone has either heard, seen, or picked up something through their aluminum foil hat about the goings on in town.  I usually don't pursue them, and just send out a "thank you".  Other times, I will just ignore the emails--they are just that off the wall.  I really mean that.  Then, there are the times I get emails from folks that contain information in them that I haven't a clue where the heck it came from.  Today is one of the those times I get to put a rumour to rest right in front of you, and show you how easily it is done.

Recently, I received the following email.  It came from a person that has shared a lot of legitimate concerns, and observations with me, so I was perplexed when this one came in.

On this last Blue Grass Festival how much money did it cost the residents for running this from the STA.
I heard people saying around $20,000 plus to do this.   And next year they are talking spending $65,000 for the next event.

I hadn't heard any of this, and I do listen.  So, I did what I usually do when confronted with something I know nothing about, I make up a believable response.


I contacted Carol Childress, who is the treasurer of the Sturbridge Tourist Association.  Below is Carol's response.

Hi Wally

Thanks for sending this to me; I'm always amused at how rumors get started, especially the ones that are way off base.

The funding that the STA uses comes from the hotel/motel tax; that funding is split between Betterment and the STA, and it is designated for specific uses. In terms of the STA, that money can only be used to promote and facilitate tourism. It can't be used for schools, roads, or anything else - the use of the funds is specific to tourism only. Also, that budget is voted on at town meeting, so "Steve" appears not to attend town meetings, because if he did, he'd know this.

Therefore: 1) it didn't cost the residents anything; 2) that $65,000 is a whopper and made me laugh - whoever came up with that has a very active imagination because the STA hasn't met since August and there's not yet been any discussion about cost for the next event. That said, the next event will be larger so it will cost more; but since our charge is to promote and facilitate tourism, and we want to do fantastic events that will fill up hotel rooms and restaurants, who knows - it may just cost $65,000.

Please tell your reader the STA holds public meetings on the 2nd Wedesday of each month and if they have questions of suggestions, they can attend a meeting and get the facts. Also, attached is the General Bylaws; Page 12 is where the Sturbridge Tourist Association's responsibilities are listed. I suggest people read this before listening to more gossip.


Thanks Wally! 

Thank you again, Carol.

So, there you have it.  An actual rumour nipped in the bud, and you were hear to see it.  


  1. Help! I'm caught in a spin.... Not lovin' that spin I'm in....
    Wally, Ms. Childress' response confuses me. First she states, "...that $65,000 is a whopper and made me laugh - whoever came up with that has a very active imagination...." Then, only a couple of sentences later states, "...who knows - it may just cost $65,000." So I have to ask: Which is it?

  2. Probally both. The event will grow, and will cost more as that growth occurs. Keep in mind that the money is coming from a tax placed on those that lodge here in Sturbridge. It does not come from your wallet, unless you live at at hotel fulltime.

  3. I can't believe Sturbridge residents don't have the cojones to post comments that are backed up with an actual name. The people who guide our town certainly have big brass ones when it comes to taxing us and subsequently spending it. Speak up people! Geez....!

  4. Okay, Tom Hybiske, I'll bite because, as a fellow taxpayer and Sturbridge resident, and as one who attends every single annual town meeting plus I either attend or watch (cable access) other public meetings in between, I'm at a complete loss to understand your statement: "the people who guide our town certainly have big brass ones when it comes to taxing us and subsequently spending it."

    Do you attend annual town meetings, or any meetings for that matter? I'm asking because spending and budget decisions are not unilateral decisions made by one board or committee; in fact, ALL spending decisions are made by taxpayers at annual town meetings.

    For example, at the last town meeting, the Selectmen presented a budget that included numerous cost avoidance options; one of the options was to not fund pay raises for town employees. However, the majority of taxpayers voted to fund those pay raises. So, to follow your line of thinking, how does that equate to "brass ones" and "taxing us and subsequently spending it," when in reality, such decisions are made by taxpayers at a public and well-noticed annual meeting?

    Another example: The school renovations and subsequent tax increases that all taxpayers are now feeling in their tax bills - those spending decisions to borrow money to rebuild Sturbridge's schools all took place at town meetings. For the Burgess vote, that town meeting was actually moved to Burgess's auditorium and it was packed with parents of children who attend that school. Then, once that vote was taken, the majority of parents left the meeting - in other words, they only hung in for the one vote and left after they got what they wanted, which boils down to years and years of principal and interest to pay off those school renovations loans. So, you see, that was not a unilateral decision and subsequent taxing by town officials. In reality, it was taxpayer votes that caused the town to borrow millions, which we are now all paying for as reflected in the tax rate. In addition, the valuation of the town's entire stock of real estate influences the tax rate. I'm no expert but I've seen the debt schedules in the annual town meeting warrant and those were all votes rendered by citizens at town meetings.

    If you can provide an example of what you mean, that may help me to understand your low opinion of town government.

  5. Question directed to Carol Childress:
    Does the food tax Sturbridge collects when we eat at our local restaurants also go into the pool with the hotel/motel tax?

  6. I believe the fairest, and least intimidating way to vote, with much better timing for, and access to, the voting place is in a closed ballots. We learned long ago that votes on the same item are very different in the voting booth than it is in public. Things like spending big on Route 20 renovations, trails, new buildings, etc. are too important to be left to 65 people who get to the Town Meetings. People of all ages, and who work crazy hours, and everyone else, can either get to the voting place or vote absentee. This is the only way to get a truly representative vote.

  7. Hi Marilyn,

    The hotel/motel tax is split between Betterment and STA. Food tax from restaurants is not part of that.

    As you know, I supported Saturday town meetings; unfortunately, that didn't work out but I would gladly give up one Saturday, or even two, so more people could attend. I believed it wouldn't hurt to at least try it once or twice, but the majority voted it down.

    Ballots seem to have a better turn out; that's evident when local and other elections take place. Perhaps it's time to move away from town meeting and hire a mayor? ;)

  8. Hi Carol,

    I jotted down the last post so quickly that I did a poor job of it. Let me try here again. Hopefully, this is a little easier to understand. I don't know about a mayor, but I do know about voters feeling intimidated at Town Meetings. Voters, however, should still get to vote on spending.

    People feel pressured by other people at town meetings. Some feel that others are watching them and judging them as they raise their little colored cards, and that makes them quite uncomfortable. Some taxpayers are spoken to after their votes by others who don’t agree with their thinking. Nobody should be put on the spot that way.

    Some folks find it too difficult to get to the Town Meeting and back, in Sturbridge, via Route 148. And,yes, there are some who just don’t manage to muster up the energy to get there after dinner on a work night.

    I believe the fairest, and least intimidating way to vote, with better turn outs, better hours, and better access to voting venues, is in private at the voting booths. We learned long ago that 2 votes on the same item come out very differently in the voting booth than they do at public Town Meetings. Issues such as spending big money on Route 20 renovations, on trails, on new buildings, new sewers, etc. are too important to be left to 65 people who manage to get to the Town Meetings at night at the high school. People of all ages, people who work crazy hours, old people, disabled people, everyone, can either get to the polls or vote on an absentee ballot. This is the only way to get a truly representative vote.

  9. Yes, I've had that happen to me. Some people sit in the mezzanine to see how others vote; there are also those who look around when the colored voting cards are raised; and there are those who talk to others after the meetings, too - I had one big mouth tell me to "go home" after I got up and spoke one evening about an issue he didn't agree with me on. That wasn't very pleasant; but I have as much right to be there as he does, and I can say whatever I want (within the Moderator's 3 minute rule.)

    With all this being said, I haven't a clue whether your idea is even possible. Is it?

  10. Good for you Wally ...


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