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Saturday, March 4, 2017

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NOTE to FramGov readers: I provided the wrong link in my last posting on FramGov. I meant to provide a link to today's Patch news. My apologies. The intended link is:
http://patch.com/massachusetts/framingham/laurie-lee-announces-candidacy-re-election



by Judith Grove
Town Meeting Member, Chair of Precinct 15

Any doubts I may have had about voting “Yes” for a City form of government were dispelled by what happened at the Special Town Meeting on February 28, 2017.

Background

All three articles concerned Tax Incentive Financing (TIFs) for two downtown Framingham developments These TIFS amount to $8.7 million in tax breaks. The purpose of TIFs is to promote housing and commercial development in commercial centers. TIFs are rarely given to apartment buildings with little to no retail like these projects, because they do not create jobs. They are taxed at a lower residential rate and cost the taxpayers money for educating the children who live there.


Community and Economic Development estimated these 2 development would generate 65 students, a tax burden of about $1 million. The estimated yearly tax revenues from them is $1.37 million. In addition to school expenses, they will incur costs for other services such as Fire, Police, Inspectional Services, and the Department of Public Works.

Scant data was given to support the 65-student estimate which I believe is too low. The 467 apartments will include 22 studios, 227 1-bedroom, 186 2-bedroom and 32 3-bedroom units. Unlike the Staples CMU which was proposed for an office park on Route 9, these downtown apartments could appeal to families because of their proximity to transportation, restaurants, parks, churches, the library and schools. If there were no children in the 227 studio and 1-bedroom units and just one child in each of 2 and 3 bedroom units, the number of students could be as high as 218, adding about $3.4 million/year in educational costs, which is more than twice the tax revenue.

TIFs are usually given for the 1-4 years before the apartment are occupied. Ways & Means, the Finance Committee and TMMs expressed concern that the 75 Concord Street TIF is too long - 15 years. Economic Development was unable to negotiate a shorter TIF with the Developer.

Reasons why it is time to replace our Town Meeting Form of Government:

     Reason #1 - The Town Meeting Moderator and the 5-member Board of Selectmen make appointments to numerous Boards and Committees which do not fairly represent all our neighborhoods.

All members of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Moderator live in just 2 precincts (1 & 4) in the Northwest quadrant of Framingham. This geographic fact is reflected in the 43 appointments to Boards and Committees made by the Moderator:

77% of all appointments were made to residents of the Northside.

86% of the Capital Budget and Finance Committees appointments were made to residents of the Northside.

Only 2 appointments were made to residents of Precincts 15, 16, 17 and 18.

     Reason #2 – The Town Meeting Moderator has power to control and even manipulate the debate for a desired result.

     1. I was opposed to Article 2 (Concord Street) and stood for 30 minutes at one of the 5 microphones so I could speak against it.

     2. To ensure fairness, the Moderator is supposed to rotate calling on speakers and strive to ensure equal pro and con opinions, but she called on the other microphones and skipped the one where I stood.

     3. Before all the TMMs had spoken the Moderator recognized the public. She also called on speakers who got in line after I did.

     4. Of 11 speakers, 1 was “against” the article, 8 were “for” and 2 had questions. Against her own instructions, she allowed the 8 “for” speakers to repeat the same information. The debate was clearly not balanced. She shirked her responsibility by not asking if anyone else planned to speak “against” the article.

     5. Three of the speakers still standing at microphones were “against” the article but did not get to speak because the Moderator ended the debate, by allowing someone to “move the question.” She should have denied this request, as she has in the past, because of the gross imbalance. The Article passed.

After the meeting, I asked the Moderator why she did not call on me. She said she wanted to hear new voices and that she was entitled to skip me if she wanted since I often speak. I pointed out that I had a right to speak on each article and I am one of the few voices for the Southside precincts which is the area of town that will be seriously impacted by this decision.

Result: Town Meeting voted to give a developer an unheard of 15-year, $5.9 million reduction in taxes after a 30-minute debate with only 1 person allowed to speak against it. This cannot be blamed on lack of time, since the meeting had only 3 articles.

     Reason #3
– While important, thoroughly-vetted articles are delayed by Town Meeting others “not ready for prime time” are rushed through.


     1. At the Charter Commission meeting on February 27th, it was pointed out that Town Meeting voted against a thoroughly vetted proposal by the Planning Board for a CMU project requested by Staples Corporation, one of our top commercial tax payers, located in Northwest Framingham. The Town Moderator defended this decision, saying that we need to be sure the project will be right for the neighborhood resident who were worried about traffic and more school children. Despite a thorough traffic study and an estimate of only 10 students, TMMs drastically delayed this project by referring it back to sponsor.

     2. The same TMMs who opposed the CMU, enthusiastically supported the two downtown TIF projects even though NO TRAFFIC STUDY WAS DONE. One development is below the congested Dennison train crossing and the other is above the downtown, traffic clogged train crossing. They also showed little concern about adding at least 65 students to our schools.

     3. In sharp contrast to years of meetings for residents of the Nobscot, Saxonville, and Mt. Wayte neighborhoods, there were NO NEIGHBORHOOD MEETINGS for the Southside precincts impacted by these developments.

     4. The developers of 75 Concord Street had not yet presented their project to the Planning Board. Because the Waverly Street Project was thoroughly vetted by the PB and these meeting were attended by the neighborhood residents, a traffic study was done and mitigation offered among other improvements.

     5. As Jim Rizoli pointed out on February 28th, some Town Meeting Member demonstrated a flagrant case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

     6. In addition to its inefficiency the Town Meeting form of government is not working for all our neighborhoods. Framingham is better than this.

Please Vote “Yes” to become a City.