The Issues

By Robert Cohen Wrentham, MA

Whatever your issue, whether it’s fiscal relief for Seniors, or classroom size at the schools, or full-time staff at the Sheldonville Fire Station, or more police, or maintaining infrastructure, or trash pick up, or recreation facilities, or open space, or development, or preserving the town’s character, they all reduce to a few basic categories:

  • The Golden Rule
  • Taxes
  • Services
  • Property Values
  • Fiscal Responsibility
  • Transparency

The Golden Rule

Growth and budgetary worries have strained our resources and forced us to reckon with our ideas of Wrentham’s identity. Many of our town’s stakeholders have gravitated to similar minded people, drawn lines in the sand, and stopped listening to each other. Civility is one of the casualties. Truth another. We stand a much better chance of meeting today’s and tomorrow’s challenges if we treat each other with respect while we debate the issues.

Taxes

Everyone agrees we pay too much. They never go down. For all that, there’s never enough money to go around. What can we do about it? Aside from practicing fiscal responsibility and setting reasonable expectations, developing a robust commercial tax base while honoring the Wrentham’s desire to preserve our rural New England Character makes the most sense.

Most four bedroom homes put at least two children in the school system. According to School Superintendent Jeffrey Marsden, we spent $9,027 per child in Fiscal Year 2007 (’08’s figures will not be available until next year). 40% came from state aid. The balance, 60%, came from you and me.

The average residential tax bill for FY2008 is $4840 per household and is based on an average home value of $431,000 and tax rate of $11.23 per thousand. (Source: Lisa Cathcart, Town Appraiser)

A family with two children in the school system cost $18,054 to educate. 60% of that or $10,832.40 financed through property taxes. That leaves a net deficit of $5992 which does not include contributions toward paying for the other services. Who pays this? Residents without children in the school system and local businesses.

We always seem to find the money to get everything done. But why not apply simple math to the situation? Businesses do not enroll children in the school system. Residential properties do. Businesses do not burden our municipal service providers to the same extent as residential.

Smart commercial development along with reasonable expectations, fiscal responsibility and creative solutions will solve our financial woes.

Services

Maintaining services at their current level and aspiring to improve over time are goals we can all support. Indeed, every citizen in Wrentham expects the Town to keep us safe, educate our children, plow our streets, pick up our garbage, maintain our infrastructure, and care for those in need (both our Seniors and our families at risk).

However, increasing prices and stagnant (or shrinking) tax revenues have put a great deal of pressure on our Boards, Committees, and the town’s staff to keep the current level of services within our means.

We need to look for resources outside the normal channels. Taking care of our municipal employees is a good start. Providing them with a stable work environment and appreciating their expertise will go a long way to improving morale and getting an efficient workforce.

Commercial growth and creative ways to fund services are necessary remedies. Otherwise, we are facing a downward spiral of budget cuts and degradation of services and low municipal employee morale and bitter fights over priorities; or, just as bad, row after row over tax overrides that pit the haves against the have-nots.

Property Values

Delivering town services directly affects the quality of our lives and the value of our homes. For most residents, our homes are our largest investments. Maintaining and increasing value have become a worry and a challenge in the aftermath of the collapsed real estate market and the impending credit crisis. We can no longer take for granted that our homes will increase in value 10% to 20% each year.

Instead we need to revisit and support the tried and true factors affecting property value: location, good schools, town services, recreational opportunities, strong neighborhoods, and good neighbors.

As far as location, Wrentham is more fortunate than many communities. We are within easy commuting distance to Boston, Providence, the 128 and 495 high tech corridors. It is a good place to live. We have open space and farms and a quaint village center all of which imbues Wrentham with that small-town-New-England charm. There are numerous recreational opportunities, and we take pride in our town. Schools and services are excellent and reflect the priorities of a vibrant and healthy community.

Continued investment will reap benefits both short and long term.

Fiscal Responsibility

We need to make sure that Town Meeting (that is, the citizens of Wrentham), our Elected Boards, Appointed Committees, and Staff operate at peak efficiency and only spend what is necessary for the proper functioning of the town? We need to also keep our expectations reasonable.

Transparency

Timely and accurate information are foundational elements for a healthy democracy. Without both, our ability to make informed choices is hobbled; it also makes us vulnerable to the spin doctors and the special interest groups.

Without freely available, objective information, rumors, half-truths, and out-right lies share equal footing with truth.

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