Election 2012: Selectmen Candidates Answer Your Questions
Incumbent Larry O'Brien and challenger Dan De Pompei take questions from residents that were submitted to Sudbury Patch.
1. How do you feel about putting a question on the ballot to eliminate the Community Preservation Act?
DDP: I believe the intent of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) is worthy; however, the appropriation of CPA funds and the management of Community Preservation projects are fraught with difficulties. I am not sure all residents realize that CPA is a 3 percent tax surcharge and some of that money goes toward 40B housing. The Town gives 10 percent of CPA annual revenue to Sudbury’s own Housing Trust. The Trust has total discretionary authority in how it applies the money toward 40B. In 2010-2011 the Trust gave us 278 Marlboro Road, which ended up in a very embarrassing legal argument between the neighbors and the Town about the appropriateness of the project. Our Sudbury neighbors, thankfully, prevailed against our own Trust and the Town. This ill-conceived project was downsized and now is apparently not profitable for the developer. We can only assume negotiations (executive session) are being conducted between the Housing Trust and the developer and precious Community Preservation dollars are again being wasted to cover negotiations. Mr. O’Brien is and has been the Board of Selectmen representative to this Trust. If we are going to spend CPA dollars on 40B we need to consider what other towns have done and focus on actually reaching 10 percent of our housing inventory. The town currently spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on developments that negligibly increase our percentage of affordable housing because the total number of housing units increases as well. For example, the recently approved Landham Crossing 40B development increased our 40B housing by 8 units but also increased our total housing units by 31 units. With this strategy, we will continue to be vulnerable to aggressive developments like the one on Johnson Farm. By the way, we could have used Town funds to purchase Johnson Farm as “Open Space” and take it off the inventory of high-risk 40B properties over a decade ago. The Town either did not understand, or chose to ignore, the risk of predatory developers. This lack of foresight and ongoing lack of action has resulted in the Johnson Farm 40B project. I also do not approve of the current appropriation of $420,000.00 CPA funds for the purchase of the CSX property. This purchase is actually illegal under Mass General Law (MGL44B sections 2&12 and chapter 186 section 12). The land title for CSX has a reversionary provision, which is unacceptable for purchase of land with CP funds and with State Grants. But the Town chooses to ignore the law. We can only assume the Town is also using CPA funds to pay legal and administrative expenses while they try to negotiate relief from MGL with their perceived friends in the state legislature. Sudbury, we can do better. CPA is a great program on paper, but we need total transparency and for how the money is actually spent. We need to spend this money on improving our town, not making our town more crowded with a housing strategy that will result in endless development and never reaching 10 percent of 40B. I am a strong supporter of using CPA funds for Historic Preservation, Recreation and Open Space. It simply needs to be legal, transparent and part of an actionable plan. Every so often, however, because of our own abuse, it might be a good practice to put something like the 3 percent CPA Tax on the ballot to generate some knowledge, some debate and confirm the residents are happy or distressed with our administration of the CPA and its funds.
LO: The CPA has been an extremely successful program for Sudbury. Since we were on of the earliest communities to adopt the CPA we were able to receive 100 percent matching from the state for the first few years of the program. Over the last 5 years or so we have received matching money ranging between 40 & 70 percent. That is in line with the slow economy and many more towns deciding to adopt the CPA. Since the matching money is generated through fees at the registry of deeds as the real estate market regains strength and transactions at the registry increase the available pool of matching money will increase for all communities. The CPA has allowed Sudbury to preserve over 400 acres of land that would have otherwise been developed into single-family homes or 40B higher density type developments. In addition we have been able to continue to working on completion of the walkway plan that I was a part of back in 2000. Without the CPA we would not have been able to build Cutting Field and the Community Field at LS that allow for the Park and Rec department to answer the tremendous demand that we have for field space for youth sports. The preservation and prevention of neighborhood teardowns that have remained as affordable home ownership units has been a great success. This approach is directly in line with the long-standing desire of Town Meeting to see scattered site affordable home ownership opportunities throughout Sudbury. I would oppose any effort to eliminate the CPA in Sudbury.
2. What steps will you take to encourage citizens to ask questions about projects and initiatives underway in Sudbury and to become involved in town government?
DDP: Currently the town is not interested in hearing from people who have new ideas or have positions that disagree with theirs. In fact in 2010 Mr O’Brien supported a petition to “gag” public comment/input at Public Meetings if the input had not been previously approved on the meeting agenda. I will welcome people to come forward and speak their mind, especially if they offer a counter point for discussion. In a true Democracy, Majority should rule and Minority should always have a voice. Sudbury residents have become frustrated and complacent after years of the current regime. Sudbury, we can do better. That is why I wrote and gained approval (majority vote at Town Meeting 2011 Warrant Article 27) for a Town Forum. An open question and answer session with department heads, committee chairs and residents in attendance. It is time for change from secret meetings to participatory meetings. I will invite people to come to all of our open meetings and encourage engaging discussion. You currently hear the town leadership complain about the lack of attendance at their meetings but they don't let people who come to their meetings speak. If residents are allowed to speak and think their voices are being heard they will start to come to meetings again and start to participate. This is not rocket science.
LO: Opportunities for citizens to learn about projects and initiatives are plentiful. The first place I would suggest is our award winning web site, www.sudbury.ma.us, that has been recognized by Common Cause as one of the best Municipal Web sites for its transparency and abundance of information from all departments. Second, all committee meetings are open public meetings with many taped for local cable TV broadcast and viewing on the SudburyTV.org website. Minutes from all committees are posted on the Sudbury Town Website. Third if you are interested in getting involved in town government be it a specific area or in general reach out to any member(s) of any or all of our various boards and committees and introduce yourself. You will find that anyone with an open mind and a desire to learn more and a willingness to participate and contribute will be warmly received.
3. As a result of our town and school employees being moved from their current healthcare plans over to the GIC there is no longer any need for a healthcare trust fund. There is an estimated $7+ million dollars in this fund currently, which was over funded year after year at the same time we were capitalizing on prop 2.5 percent and asking our taxpayers for tax overrides. What do you each propose we do with this money and why?
DDP: Transparency is most important failure exposed by this issue. We have not heard anything about the millions of dollars in the health care trust by the current leadership. The question we should ask ourselves is did we know about the annual tax to fund this trust and why did we did we apparently overfund it year after year? Sudbury, we can do better. By law, we are limited with what we can do with these funds because a portion was accrued from a fee applied to our employees’ salaries and some was apparently collected by a tax levied on residents. We need to follow the law and we need to be very transparent about how this money may be expensed or applied. It is a huge amount of money and this topic should be front and center with our citizens and our employees. One expense, which comes to mind, is our enormous Post-Employment obligation that we will need to fund for decades into the future as our retiree population and the corresponding cost of their retirement costs increase. But first we need to hear from the people. Their needs to be a conversation among the residents and the employees to determine what is legal and then to determine what is most appropriate and most beneficial to all. Since currently there is no conversation between the people of Sudbury and our leadership this could be the subject of our first Town Forum.
LO: First off the health Care Trust Fund may only be used for employee health insurance as part of our self insured employee health insurance plan. The balance is under 7 million dollars and will decrease as claims are processed thru the end of the plan year with additional time for all trailing claims to be processed before any thing can be done with the remaining balance. A portion of the balance is from employee contributions and is required to be returned to them. Once a net balance has been determined a discussion will ensue that will include the Finance Committee, Board of Selectmen, SPS and the Town Manager as to how we should use these one time funds. Our Stabilization Fund and our unfunded OPEB Trust are two areas that will receive serious consideration.
4. What steps should we have taken already as well as moving forward to reduce our 40B exposure?
DDP: We have built over a thousand homes in Sudbury while people like Larry O'Brien, John Drobinski and Jody Kablack have been in power either on the planning board, board of selectmen or as the town planner. If we had invoked inclusionary zoning, or some similar bylaw to help us address the 40B requirement passed in 1969, then our 40B obligation could have been much more easily addressed today. After all that housing construction which totally ignored our 40B obligation, we are now facing egregious 40B developments which will make our schools and roads even more crowded on top of the thousand houses we already built. We have no planning. Look at Route 20 - it is a textbook case example of how not to develop a commercial district. We have probably built more homes than Lincoln, Wayland and Concord combined but ignored our 40B obligation and ignored the impact all this housing has on our education system.
When you build that many housing units you need to do it in a manner that does not put so much budget pressure on our schools and you need to plan to increase your commercial tax base as well to offset the expense of educating all those children. We need planning. We either have no planning or the planning we have had has been to consciously increase our housing stock and our education budget while ignoring 40B and the commercial tax base. If that was our strategy we are on target. But it is not where we want to be. Sudbury we can do better. We need put a real strategy in place to address 40B, not a paper tiger. Our 40B plan should have been in place 10 years ago like Concord's and Lincoln's was. Those towns have both reached 10 percent. They have a real plan and they put it in place years ago. We are maintaining the same strategy we have always had and it has not worked. We will not get a change in the housing plan until we change the people currently in charge. We need to be proactive and build 100 percent affordable senior housing to meet our 10 percent quota without further burdening our schools and our taxpayers. It is not rocket science. We just need to elect people who actually want to do this stuff. I do.
LO: The steps that we have taken include:
- Being one of the first communities in the Commonwealth to have a State certified Housing Production Plan. This will afford Sudbury certain protections going forward against unwanted 40B applications.
- The identification of key large parcels of land for preservation and / or recreation uses. These are outlined in two key reports the Land Use Priorities report and our Open Space and Recreation Report. Some of these parcels are enrolled in the 61A program and that provides the town with the right of first refusal if the land is put up for sale. Other parcels are not enrolled in the 61A program, Johnson Farm on Landham Road is one example, if the landowner is interested and willing to enter into negotiations with the town we could possibly protect the site as open or recreation space. If an agreement cannot be reached the most likely result will be some sort of housing development.
- Maintaining out commitment to fully fund the Community Preservation Act. The only way to reduce our exposure to 40B developments is to either reach the 10 percent State Mandate or to systematically eliminate the number of parcels that would be attractive for this type of development. In reality a combination of these two approaches is what we have been practicing for many years now.