Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Balance, Bias, and the RFP Process

This post responds to Mr. Lantigua's comments to the prior post.

Mr. Lantigua,

Your charges of lack of balance and bias are indeed odd. This is so because in your long comment on my post about opponents’ arguments against issuing an RFP you do not show lack of balance or bias. In fact, all you do is add additional, factually incorrect claims, to the growing list offered by those who wish to kill a full consideration of the Milton LLC proposal.

How does pointing out the falsehood in opponent’s claims that an RFP constitutes a legal obligation on our part represent lack of balance? How does demonstrating the bias inherent in theatrically holding up data from the Tischler and Associates study of Barnstable, which is irrelevant to the Milton situation, represent bias on my part?

You see Mr. Lantigua, it is one thing to make claims, it is another to support those claims with a convincing argument based on facts. That is what I believe I did in the post to which you are responding. I’m not defending the developer, or giving them credit at all. My interest, as I’ve told you before, is the town of Milton. As between you and I, Mr. Lantigua, it is you who has the personal interest. Milton’s interests will be safeguarded by its citizens, town meeting, Board of Selectmen and Planning Board. It is not sensible to expect a developer not to have a profit motive, or to have submitted detailed plans at an inappropriate stage. And by the way, when Milton LLC began to buy property is irrelevant to the simple fact that their proposal is responsive to our Community Development Plan.

So let’s look at some of your claims.

You make two claims regarding the draft RFP that are false. You say the draft would have permitted the developer to build “anything he wants within existing Milton building codes”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any project built on the DPW land would require approval of a specific plan by the Town Meeting, including any limitations they or the Selectmen might add, and would be subject to review by the Planning Board. The same answer applies to your second claim, that the developer could simply add square footage to the project to increase their profit. No, he couldn’t, any more than the developer of the condos on Wharf Street could decide on his own to add a 7th floor to the complex. The RFP is not the controlling document on such restrictions.

Am I biased for pointing out these factual errors? Are you biased for making such claims?

You next claim that the net revenue from the proposed project would be much less than the gross revenue of $500,000, which you are kind enough to admit has now been guaranteed. You argue that abatements (which you mistakenly describe as a tax rate adjustment) and increased service costs will cause this result. I would first point out that you assume applications for abatement would be granted, or won on appeal. I don’t think any such thing is certain. But the more important point is that any successful abatements have no long term effect on the amount of money the town raises through property taxes. The Town is entitled to raise through the property tax each year an amount equal to the prior year’s levy, plus 2 ½%, plus new growth. Towns issue abatements all the time. Assessors set aside a certain amount of money to deal with such possibilities, called the Overlay Reserve. An approved abatement of the type you envision means a lowered assessment on a given piece of property. This lowered assessment is factored into the entire town’s cumulative assessment in future years and has no effect on the towns total taxing capability.

Do I exhibit a lack of balance by educating you on this point?

So next we have the claim of increased “town services” that this small, mixed use development will necessitate. What services exactly are you talking about? What is your basis for making this claim? Has a study been done? Has any department head in town sounded the alarm about such a need? The analysis of service costs for any development, including residential development, is a complex task and I’m afraid, Mr. Lantigua, that I do not believe you or anyone else has undertaken such a study. As for the willingness of you and others to expend your hard earned money fighting what the Town as a whole might determine is in its best interests, it’s your money.

You state that I don’t believe it is a “bad thing” to have only one developer in play. I dispute that only one developer is in play. We won’t know that until we issue an RFP. Issuing an RFP is not limiting our options. Refusing to issue an RFP is limiting our options. If no other developer is able to offer a competitive proposal, that should tell us something about the offer before us. It wouldn’t necessarily mean we accept it. It wouldn’t necessarily mean we don’t negotiate with the developer for changes. But it would mean we wouldn’t simply walk away from a proposal which provides services we need and substantial tax revenue, at the same time solving for us the problem of relocating and building a new DPW facility.

There are many hurdles to the realization of Milton LLC’s proposal, including potentially better ones. Your “best world” scenario focusing just on the $500,000 revenue is not a best world scenario. As I pointed out in my blog post, we need to increase the contribution of commercial taxes to our overall revenue stream. Not all Milton residents can afford to live on Highland Street, Mr. Lantigua. The current dependence on residential property taxes is a major burden for many. We don’t suffer from a lack of residential development. We suffer from a lack of commercial development, and the one currently before us provides a broadened tax base, services we need, and a new DPW facility.

I’m not attacking any group, Mr. Lantigua. I am, however, holding their self-serving arguments up to the light of day. To date I haven’t found much offered in rebuttal.

Having said that, your fears that my humble blog could “potentially weaken their leverage” vastly overstates its influence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A guaranteed $500k in tax revenue AND a brand new DPW yard? What is the holdup? Why can't the town just do the right thing and issue the RFP's? How can people object to this? I'm guessing that this Lantigua lives somewhere behind the DPW yard and is only looking out for his best interests, which is understandable. However I would say that the overwhelming majority of this town would support this opportunity. I don't know how I came across this blog, but it's very informative. Unfortunately, I've never attended a town meeting due to time constraints; your reporting of the situation has been welcome. I can tell you that all of my neighbors and especially my wife (unfortunately) look forward to frequenting these new shops. Has there been any talk of what specific stores might go in there? I know many of us would like to see a Trader Joe’s go in over there. Thanks for the great blog!
an East Milton res

12:38 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Dear East Milton Resident,

Thank you for commenting.

I agree with you that the vast majority of Milton residents would favor such a development. But as is always the case with something like this, abutters who feel threatened will always speak up loudly while the public generally remains silent. This is especially so during the summer.

I urge you and your neighbors to write the Board of Selectmen and tell them what you like about the proposal and urge them to issue an RFP.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick response. One more question: I found this address for a selectman on the Milton town site:
Is this the right person to send emails to?
an East Milton res

3:24 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Dear East Milton Resident,

Here are the email addresses for the three Selectmen: Jimmy Mullen, Charlie McCarthy and Marion McEttrick. You should send your emails to all three.

3:34 PM  

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