Write-in Everett W. Skinner for Board of Health

Hi Everyone,

I am running the Board of Health as a Write-in candidate. Please vote for me on Monday, April 5.

I have a strong background in civil engineering. including septic system design and installation, storm water design and installation, and sanitary waste disposal. Plus, I am a former head of the Wrentham Department of Public works.

To vote for me, write the following on the ballot:

Everett W. Skinner
92 Wampum Street

Thank you

Everett “Bill” Skinner

PS: Please forward this to all your friends and Facebook Buddies.

Vote for Tom Wrynn for Planning Board

The not-in-my-backyard approach to managing growth is at odds with the rigors of the job of Planning Board and inimical to Wrentham’s long term financial health.

Mostly the Planning Board functions like a judge.  Its primary job is to gather information about residential and commercial development projects, insure that they are executed in accordance with all the applicable laws and regulations, and balance the interests of property owners, abutters, and the community as a whole.

There are clearly spelled out guidelines for how decisions are made that leave considerably less room for discretion than is commonly believed. Doing the job properly requires members to strive for impartiality in their decisions.  Members must do their homework.  They have to work with staff and the town’s engineering firm. They have to work with applicants’ representatives. They must render fair and ethical decisions based on the information presented at the hearings and the laws that govern the process.

The key words on which to focus are balance, objectivity, and ethical.  A long list of killed projects, many of which had they succeeded would have helped us avoid our current financial straights, is not a good resume item for a prospective member.  Campaign rhetoric that demonstrates a willingness put aside the town’s best interest if someone’s backyard is threatened should be a warning to voters.

Why is it that our nearest neighbor, Foxboro, has a budget surplus and just certified some $6,000,000 in free cash and we are facing an override and severe cuts in service?

Once upon a time Wrentham and Foxboro were both rural towns with real estate on Route 1. It’s not hard to connect the dots between the say-no-to-everything mentality that has stifled smart growth in Wrentham for the last ten years.  There is a direct connection between our $1.5m budget short fall and the not-in-my-backyard approach to growth.

Tom Wrynn is committed to maintaining our rural character, to fair and impartial decisions, and to growth that contributes to our long term financial needs.

Vote for Tom Wrynn for Planning Board

Cable 8 Petition: Distraction or Real Issue?

Perhaps folks are wondering why I signed the petition?  As a passionate advocate of democracy, free speech, and transparency in government, I have a standing policy to sign all Citizen’s Petitions and Campaign Nomination papers, irrespective of the merits or whether I support a particular candidate.

Wrentham is governed by direct democracy.  Everyone’s voice counts. Everyone who desires it should have the opportunity to stand before the voters.

It has been argued by the show’s producers, hosts and supporters that the petition was an attempt to infringe on the “First Amendment.”

Not at all. To suggest that this petition is an infringement on anyone’s First Amendment rights is an ironic argument, to say the least. The accusation is a cynical attempt in its own right to quash speech deemed undesirable by the accusers.

Keeping it off of Town Meeting floor deprives the community, which pays for the Cable 8 facilities, of the opportunity to discuss whether a particular show benefits the community.

Worst of all. this argument attacks individuals and distracts the public from the underlying questions:

  • How DO we speak about the issues facing our community?
  • How do we sepak about the people who volunteer their time to govern our town?
  • Are the facts presented on locally produced TV shows vetted for the truth?
  • If not, is that okay?
  • Are the stories produced according to standard journalistic practices? Should they be?
  • Does the community benefit from the show?
  • And if not, what can we as a community do about it?

Some have suggested that filing the petition is tantamount to infringing on the producers’ and hosts’ rights to free speech. On the contrary, the petition invites freedom of speech by asking for an open dialog at Town Meeting.

Finally, some have asked if people should  be alarmed to see both current board members and people running for office on the petition?

Absolutely not.  Signing the petition and inviting discussion demonstrates the signatories’ commitment to open and honest debate. All public officials and candidates should be held to this standard. Regrettably, not all reach it.

Those screaming the loudest have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo in Town Hall.  By talking about “free speech” and attacking individuals, they avoid focusing on the real issues facing our community:

  • We are broke, why?.
  • The incumbents are not saying what will be cut, why?
  • Should we vote on an Override?
  • There’s no plan to create revenue, why?
  • What does this crisis say about how the town is managed?
  • Would the town be better served by new leadership?

Citizen’s Petitions and Selectmen

In a recent letter to the editor Board of Health Chairman Mr. Nadkarni wrote,

“The Wrentham selectmen did not vote to not put Billian’s second petition on the warrant. After a lengthy discussion of whether or not the selectmen should act as “gatekeepers” on petitions whose content was illegal according to town counsel, they voted to put a “hold” on the article pending more discussions with town counsel.”

When will he and my colleagues on the Board finally attain the rule?  The selectmen have no authority to act as “gatekeepers” for Citizen’s Petitions.

We went through this same thing last year when the board erroneously removed a lawfully executed and Town Clerk certified petition from the Recreation community that sought to place the funds from the sale of the excess loam and gravel at the Rice Complex into the Recreation Department budget.

Last year the board could plausibly claim ignorance on the issue of Citizen’s Petitions. But then we paid Town Attorney George Hall our hard earned tax dollars for his opinion.  His May 29, 2008 response was, “If the petition is valid, it is my view that the article cannot be removed from the warrant.”

My colleagues on the board have known this since last May, yet they once again exercised “gatekeeper” authority by voting on each of the Citizen’s Petitions proffered for this year’s Annual Town Meeting.

The backstory about that last year’s petition is worth remembering now.  It was no secret that my colleagues preferred the money from the “dirt pile” sale go to the general fund.  That was a reasonable position, one which Town Meeting should have had the opportunity to consider.

However, the actions taken to thwart it were not.  First a member of the board made allegations about the validity of the signatures. Then a police investigation followed.  The matter was referred to the District Attorney’s office.  It was determined that no crime was committed.  Reputations were injured.   Out of fear, the petitioner asked that it be withdrawn.  A vote to remove the petition followed.

The end result was that the money went into the general fund.  And Town Meeting was deprived of the opportunity to vote on the matter.  Sound familiar?

Much has been made of “free speech” lately.  And indeed that is one of the founding principles of our great nation. But what about that  other pillar of democracy and civil society, the rule of law?

Citizen’s Petitions are the bedrock of our form of government.  They are guaranteed by Massachusetts law for the purpose of giving community members the opportunity to have input in local affairs.

When public officials knowingly and unlawfully overstep their authority they deprive us of our most basic democratic rights. What do YOU think about that?  The local election is the one place where you cannot be ignored.  Vote on April 6, 2009.

40B Income Guidelines

At the February 10, 2009 Board of Selectman meeting, a board member suggested that municipal and school department employees would not qualify for 40b housing. According to 760 CMR 56.02,

Income Eligible Household – [emphasis added] means a household of one or more persons whose maximum income does not exceed 80% of the area median income, adjusted for household size, or as otherwise established by the Department in guidelines.  For homeownership programs, the Subsidizing Agency may establish asset limitations for Income Eligible Households by statute, regulations, or guideline.  In the absence of such provisions, Income Eligible Households shall be subject to asset and/or other financial limitations as defined by the Department in guidelines. (source: MA Housing and Development web site.)

According to a letter to the editor published in both The Sun Chronicle and The Country Gazette by Wrentham Resident Marjorie Immonen,  the area’s median income is $82.400.  The Wrentham Personnel Bylaws list salary ranges on p. 33ff and have much to say on this issue.  A great many of our staff  fall below the 80% threshold.

Now that Wrentham Zoning By-Law 13.3 has been stricken from the books we do not have to accept a 40b project of any sort.  The town is free to develop affordable housing with the full protection of the local permitting process.13.3 previously stipulated 40b as the ONLY way to create affordable housing.

We should form an affordable housing athority and take care of our own instead of spending our money on 40b experts and pursuing policies with a low likelihood of success.

Annual Town Meeting Warrant Open

The BoS voted to open the warrant for our Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, February 17, 2009.  The warrant will close at noon Friday, March 13, 2009.  The board will review the draft at the March 17, 2009 meeting and the final warrant on April 7, 2009.

Annual town meeting is a wonderful opportunity for members of the community to more fully participate in the affairs of town government.  The board of selectmen have no say in the content of the articles or whether they can be included on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant.  Only 10 signatures are required to put a citizen’s petition on the warrant.

Contact me if you have questions on how to do this or if you need logistical support.  Remember that by-law changes undergo scrutiny by the Attorney General’s office to insure they are compliant with existing laws and the state constitution.

3 to 1 vote to authorize an RFP to develop the Marra Property

After about an hour’s discussion my colleagues on the board voted to authorize a Request for Proposals to develop the Marra Property despite a vote at the previous week at Town Meeting expressing a lack of confidence in the project.

They plan to solicit bids from contractors and come back to Town Meeting in April to approve the project and to approve the disposition of our land, despite the vote taken last week.

I voted against this action because:

  • Town Meeting’s vote to Indefinitely Postpone Article 11 amounted to a no confidence vote for the project.
  • The project is not likely to achieve its stated goal of providing a safe harbor from 40b developers.
  • There are higher and better uses for that parcel of land.
  • Proceeding ignores the Wampum Corner Corridor Study which was commissioned by the Selectman’s office (for which we paid nearly $50,000).
  • Going forward ignores the will of the community as expressed during the Wampum Corner Corridor Study meetings, which is to leave alone the Wampum Corner Corridor between West Street and 495.
  • When the previous Town Meeting voted down the Hotel Overlay District, they made it clear that the did not want any development between Wampum Corner and 495.

This project is extremely unlikely to accomplish its stated goal of providing a  safe harbor from a large 40b apartment complex.  Even if all of its many moving parts work, as proposed, the assisted living facility will only buy us one to two years safe harbor, at which point we will be faced the the same pressures by large landholders and 40b developers and we will still not have a comprehensive plan to achieve the state mandated 10% affordable housing.

Creating an assisted living facility for injured veterans is a laudable goal. The soldiers who sacrificed their health for our freedom deserve all we can give them and more. However, this issue is about developing an effective policy and a comprehensive strategy for satisfying the state’s M.G.L. 40b housing requirements not about helping disabled veterans.

The project proposed by the RFP, violates the spirit of  M.G.L. 40b which was enacted to stimulate the creation of housing for low to moderate income working people in Massachusetts.  There are so many moving parts to this proposal that Wrentham would be better served by solving our affordable housing requirements differently:

  • Certification of the units by the state as affordable under the terms of 40b  is not guaranteed.
  • Funding depends on securing numerous grants from Federal and State agencies at a time of profound financial uncertainty.
  • Even with Federal and State funding, the economic feasibility of developing the site is cost-prohibitive and, according to the experts with whom I have consulted,  will require a much larger build out to make the numbers work for any potential developer.

The project’s proponents and the lawyer are the same people who led the failed  attempt to force the state to count beds at the state school as certified affordable housing.  Now they want gamble our money on another long shot.

Questions

How can the project’s proponents suggest municipal government “step up to the plate” and find places in the budget to save money on one day and spend our money so frivolously on another?

How many ways does the town have to say no before the project proponents respect the will of the community?

Wrentham Budget Challenges

On February 5th, The Sun Chronicle published an article entitled, “Wrentham to decide tax hike in April.” In it the suggestion was made that municipal government has not done its share to help with our financial crisis, that we should be “managing our budget” better.

Our budget woes are not a result of the department heads and town staff failing to “manage our budget.” The staff at Town Hall have indeed “stepped up to the plate.”  They and the Finance Committee have shown a great respect for the tax payers’ money and have done an amazing job delivering high quality services in an environment of steadily dwindling resources.

The revenue side of the budget equation is a different story.  There have been a number of lost opportunities to improve our revenue situation that did not involve raising taxes and fees and that could have been implemented to the benefit of the town in a different political environment. E.g,

  • Finding a way to make the Hotel Overlay district more compatible with the community’s needs (we lost some $500k in tax revenue from that project)
  • Heeding the recommendations of the PILOT Fund Committee to rezone the State School property from CRSP to commercial to recapture the state PILOT funds (we lost over $300k a year on this)
  • Partnering with a cell carrier to build to the communication tower at Rhodes Drive (and collect rent).

If you’re counting, the hotel district, PILOT fund losses, and partnering with a cell carrier add up to some $800 to $900k+ in revenue, which is about half of the $1.5 million short fall predicted by the Town Administrator.

There are a few places where we can spend less, like our legal budget ($124k). And we need to make those cuts.  However, doing so will not cover the $1.5 million shortfall projected by the town administrator.

When I voted to put the override on the ballot it was out of respect for Wrentham’s residents who are hardworking and intelligent people capable of deciding their own fate at Town Meeting.

The underlying truth about our financial situation is that there’s not much of substance left to cut from the budget.

That means we as a community have to ask the hard question, “Do we want to, or do we have to, cut vital services (like public safety and education) or are we willing to pay to maintain them?”

In this situation, the Board of Selectmen’s job is to inform the public honestly and accurately and let Town Meeting do its job: express the will of the community.

Marra Property And Affordable Housing

On February 2, The Sun Chronicle reported,

“Selectmen say the move will help the town meet the state goal of communities having at least 10 percent of their housing stock classified as affordable, which would give Wrentham more say over 40B affordable housing projects that can bypass most local zoning. Also, assisted living is for senior citizens, which wouldn’t affect local schools, selectmen point out.” (“Funding for union contracts to be decided in Wrentham“)

I did not support this project and neither do I support disposing of the Marra property in that manner.  This it is yet another attempt to side step the intent of Chapter 40b, which is to create affordable housing for people like teachers and town employees and our children who otherwise cannot afford to live in our community.

The state is cracking down on projects like this. They want affordable housing for working people.  Moreover, this project in particular has so many moving parts that the likelihood of success is extremely low.

  • The project proposed at Town Meeting was a “friendly 40b” which means they do not have to face the rigors of the local permitting process.
  • The funding source is the U.S. government which is focused on bailing out Wall St, the banks, and the big three car companies–not human services.
  • The topography of Marra property site is hilly and is not suitable for disabled people.
  • The environmental remediation project is not completed.
  • Where is the list of non-profit companies prepared to step in?

We need to develop and execute a tangible and meaningful affordable housing plan. Changing  Zoning By-law article 13.3 last year was the first step. Previously, the only way to create affordable housing was by 40b projects, which are not required to submit to local zoning scrutiny.

Now we are free to develop projects over which the community will have a great deal of input.

The next step is to disband the 40b Committee and create an “Affordable Housing” committee or perhaps an “Affordable Housing Authority.”  We need to task them with viewing the issue with broader vision and we need to empower them to act in the best interest of the Town of Wrentham.

40b & Affordable Housing

A while back a friend asked me to comment on the Town’s position on 40B projects. He lives near Wampum Corner and was referring to the Fairfield project which proposed to build a 200 unit apartment complex on Mill Pond near the Northland Farms property.

We don’t have a position.  We have a law with which we must comply. Wrentham is vulnerable to “40B projects” because Wrentham’s certified affordable housing stock is less than 10 percent.

“Requirements or regulations shall be consistent with local needs when imposed by a board of zoning appeals after comprehensive hearing in a city or town where (1) low or moderate income housing exists which is in excess of ten per cent of the housing units reported in the latest federal decennial census of the city or town . . . .” (40B, Section 20. Definitions)

Massachusetts General Law 40B was enacted by the state legislature in 1969 to address the Commonwealth’s need for low to moderate income housing. According to 4oB, Section 2,

“The purpose of this chapter is to permit a city or town to plan jointly with cities or towns to promote with the greatest efficiency and economy the co-ordinated and orderly development of the areas within their jurisdiction and the general welfare and prosperity of their citizens. (40B, Section 2)

The 40B statute primarily focuses on the mechanics and rules for setting up regional planning entities, it describes two specific planning districts (Southeastern Regional and Metropolitan Area). It also defines what concerns us the most, low and moderate income housing. E.g,

Any public agency or limited dividend or nonprofit organization proposing to build low or moderate income housing may submit to the board of appeals, established under section twelve of Chapter 40A, a single application to build such housing in lieu of separate applications to the applicable local boards. (40B, Section 21)

760 CMR 56 spells out the rules and regulations for developing 40B projects. These change over time and govern the execution of the law. Chapter 40B is the legislative foundation for the rules and procedures published CMR 760 56.

“The Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) is the complete set of Administrative Law (regulations) promulgated by state agencies pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (M.G.L. c. 30A).” (Source: Housing and Economic Development)

Currently the 10 percent figure isn’t hard and fast so long as the town has a “production plan” in place and the town achieves its numbers from year to year. This is what forestalled the Fairfield project.

The production plan in place right now was authored by the Planning Board chaired by local Attorney Dan Vieira and on which the current chair of the Planning Board, Patrick Moore and Everett “Bill” Skinner, served.  It was based on a “friendly 40b” project on the Franklin/Wrentham border.

Thus far, none of the units under that plan have been produced. Neither has the 40B Committee produced a viable plan to solve the problem.

Come spring 2009, Wrentham’s safeharbor will expire.  What does that mean? Sooner rather than later, a large apartment complex will be sited somewhere in town. It will not have to comply with local zoning. The community will have little influence over its final shape.  But we all will have to pay for the services provided to our new neighbors while the developers get rich.

So how did this happen?  Simple. Up until the Planning Board Chaired by Mr. Vieira,  the predecessor planning boards and community leaders failed to adequately plan for increasing affordable housing stock. The law was enacted in 1969. From then forward, the town needed a plan for dealing with this issue.

Moreover, community leaders chose to enact a by-law that prohibited the development of affordable housing except by 40b and then they ignored the requirement by failing to attract friendly 40bs or by taking simple measures like requiring all decent sized subdivisions built after the law was enacted to include affordable housing, particularly during the first building boom in the 80s and the most recent one from 1996 to 2006.

Suburban sprawl has reached our borders and beyond. Sticking our heads in the sand and hoping for the best is not going to work.  We need to plan. We need to act.

As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, either we come up with 10 percent affordable housing stock or a viable plan to produce affordable housing, period.

What do we know right now?  The safe harbor will  expire this spring.  Our 40B committee has spent thousands of dollars with an attorney who advertises himself as a 40B expert and has yet to produce a single unit or a viable plan.

FUD, fear, uncertainty,and doubt, derailed the hotel overlay district on South Street, the property on which the Fairfield project was to have been built is now back on the market.

Instead of a development project that would have increased our municipal budged by $400,000 to $500,000 with minimal impact on our services, we are now once again staring down the barrel of another 40B project and a budget we cannot balance without cutting services.

The town’s economic health is in serious jeopardy right now.  We will barely balance this year’s budget.  Next year, according to Town Administrator Jack McFeeley’s analysis, we will be nearly $1.6 million  in the red assuming we provide the same level of services.

There are those who might be tempted to cite the current economic troubles as a good reason for doing nothing.  But we all know that is only going to provide temporary relief.

With the South Street property’s proximity to 495 and the Mall, the moment the economy turns around, it is only a matter of time before someone comes to town and builds a two hundred or more unit apartment complex.

Imagine a scenario in which we have struggled financially, made the hard choices, and when we finally turn the corner, bam a big apartment complex comes along to further burden our resources.

There is some good news.  Before the last Town Meeting the only way to create affordable housing in Wrentham was with a 40B project.  That is no longer an impediment to taking control of our affordable housing destiny.

It is time to cast aside the old politics of FUD and face this issue head on. It is time to act now.

Here’s a recource: 40bfactsheet2004.pdf