(Editor's Note: This is the third in a four-part series in which Tewksbury Patch asked the candidates for Selectmen for their views on some of the hot-button issues residents have been talking about.)
Taxpayers have been pounded recently with substantial increases in property taxes and water and sewer rates. In your opinion, what can be done to ease the burden on local taxpayers?
Kenneth Miano: The never-ending saga of the Town of Tewksbury being one of the highest water/sewer rates in Massachusetts. We could go back to the start by saying we bit off way more than we could handle, but we cannot, so now we have to deal with what is in front of us. I once had a property that was serviced by the MWRA. I used to pay around 1200 per year for water/sewer. Once they changed out my meter, that price jumped to over $4000.00. So evidently, I was not paying my fair share. At this point in time, everyone should be paying their fair share of this capital infrastructure build out. We should offer an amnesty program for Homeowners who may be illegally tied into the system, to come forward and do the right thing. There should be no penalties for them coming forward. This would be so that we could get a proper Accounting of all of our resources used. The second phase I would look at is some sort of Hot Line Program where a citizen could leave anonymous tips regarding violators. After all, homeowners who are tied into the system illegally are putting a greater financial responsibility on everyone else. Increased inspections would be the third phase in order to try and gain compliance. One last thought on the water/sewer issue. As residents conserve, and consumption decreases, I don’t believe it is fair to raise the rates to maintain the revenue flow. It feels like I am being punished for conservation.
We definitely need to bring more business to our town. I would want to identify all existing vacant parcels and build a portfolio with pictures and all pertinent data for those parcels. This portfolio could then be put on line and or shopped around to businesses so that they can see developmental opportunities in Tewksbury. We could provide prospective businesses with a graduated tax scale incentive while their business starts to mature. We could also strike a deal to provide Tewksbury residents employment opportunities. Great things can happen when everyone works together.
David Gay: This issue is a major concern to the Board of Selectmen and the Town Manager. As a resident who also pays water and sewer bills I am in favor of relief to the residents of Tewksbury which the Town Manager has indicated that he is working on currently. The town is trying to bring in additional revenue from new businesses like Thermo-Fisher to increase our tax base which would ultimately ease some of the tax burden for Tewksbury residents.
Scott Wilson: Our current Board of Selectmen has worked hard to ease the burden on local taxpayers. During the last three years, health care costs have increased and State Aid has declined and like most families in Tewksbury, we have committed to do more with less. We are now operating our departments with less people and money. We have also streamlined services and have negotiated with our unions to help manage the overall costs to our town.
Just this year we shifted the local property tax levy which means the property tax burden has been shifted away from residents. By law, we have created the maximum allowable tax shift, thus easing the burden on our residents.
A year ago, I suggested a Senior Property Tax Relief Program to our Town Manager and we are working on implementing that for FY13. This will give our seniors in the community opportunities to work for the town, thus giving them an opportunity to save on their property taxes.
We have been able to maintain our bond rating in town which has allowed us to finance debt at a lower rate. We are paying off leases in our FY13 budget which will significantly save the taxpayers money on interest costs. We have worked on having our pension costs recalculated and also removed those from the enterprise funds.
The average single family tax increase this year was $551 ($258 is for the sewer debt shift, $146 is for the new high school & $147 is the year over year increase). Besides capital improvements, we have level-funded our budgets and continued to live within our means.
I am committed to continuing to look for ways to ease the tax burden on my fellow residents. The most effective way is to increase the number of residents and businesses in Tewksbury. This increases the overall tax base and reduces the tax burden for all residents. That means making Tewksbury a top destination location. I believe that with residents and town government working together, we can achieve that goal.
Three years ago, I was elected to the Board of Selectman and we were in the process of a 10-year implementation of the Sewer Project. In conjunction with our new Town Manager, we made the decision to deal with that issue rather than “kick the can” down the road for another Board to address. It certainly isn’t a popular issue but I committed to you that I would deal with the tough issues if I was elected as a Selectman. I make that same commitment now.
Robert Marcin: First and foremost I would take a stance against increases in these taxes. Whether we like it or not our economy has changed and it is going to take time to heal our wounds. If I could waive a magic wand and lower taxes without any supplementing solution I would, but unfortunately that is not a reality.
What I can do however, is place a heavy focus on improving the efficiency of how this money is used and how we as residents can save ourselves money. Forming a subcommittee which focuses on these issues and dedicate their time towards its improvement is one idea that I believe could work. If state aid is possible then I would be willing to work with the state to gain grants or help inform residents on ways to conserve water and educate them on tax incentives that they may not be aware of at this time.
(The final part in our series, on Friday, will deal with communication and trust.)