Sunday, October 23, 2005

RFP Should Reflect Entire Town’s Interests

Do we as a community suffer from amnesia?

I ask because some of the recent letters to the Milton Times from opponents of commercial development at the DPW Yard make me wonder if we’ve been living in the same community for the past 20 years.

No one who has served the Town in elective or appointive office, or worked on a Proposition 2 ½ override, or paid close attention to Town affairs, or looked at their tax bill can have failed to notice that Milton has a systemic problem with it Town finances. Revenue increases are insufficient to maintain even basic services. Thus we have resorted to frequent overrides of Proposition 2 ½. And in a community where residential property owners bear 97% of the property tax load that means an increasingly heavy burden on the homeowner. As a mature, nearly built out community we must accept the fact that homeowners will always need to shoulder a disproportionate share of property taxes, especially compared to many communities like ours. But that does not relieve us of the responsibility to actively seek out opportunities to diversify our tax base with commercial development. Many of our fellow residents struggle under the tax load they have today, a load which will only increase. We owe it to them to mitigate the load when we can.

The consequences of a lack of commercial development has been recognized for a long time. Sixteen years ago, in the Warrant Committee report of 1989, our finance committee noted:

“Milton needs to receive its share of the 40% growth in state revenues annually as promised by the State in 1981. At the same time, our citizens need to realize that due to Milton’s residential character, there is limited commercial and industrial properties and no hotels to shift the residential tax to. Thus Proposition 2 ½ overrides may be needed more frequently in Milton than in other more commercially developed towns.”

Increasingly in recent years responsible town officials have called for greater efforts to increase commercial development and the revenue it brings. Over a year ago a Community Development Plan was written which called for a number of actions, including re-zoning, to foster commercial development. In the Executive Summary of the report it states:

“Establish new commercial zoning districts to expand non-residential tax base

Reedsdale/Randolph Ave. area –Rezone this intersection, including the Tedeschi store and adjoining lots, the Rectory and the Town DPW yard for commercial uses.”

Given the long standing need and the recommendations of our own Community Development Plan, is it surprising that the draft RFP now being considered by the Citizens Advisory Committee would contain a request for developers to point out how their proposals would help diversify our tax base? Should we take seriously the notion that “the fix is in” merely because our needs as a town as reflected in our own planning process is opposed by an abutter?

Opponents of commercial development now propose that we build more residential housing at the DPW Yard. We heard the same suggestion over 20 years ago over the parcel that is now the Fruit Center development. They claim it will produce more revenue, even though we don’t know yet what type of commercial development might be proposed, and even though at the May public hearing many opponents agreed with the notion that total dollar value alone should not be the deciding factor. The claimed analysis showing that residential use would produce more revenue is based on a well known study by TischlerBice for the town of Barnstable Massachusetts. The analysis is flawed because it uses the revenue and cost data from that study, data which applies to the conditions of Barnstable. I personally confirmed this with Paul Tischler, President of the firm who wrote the report. Equally misleading is comparing the commercial tax from the old Hood warehouse with the residential taxes from the new Milton Landing development. A new commercial development on that property of only half the market value of Milton Landing would have returned the same revenue because we tax commercial property at twice the rate we tax residential property.

But all this misses the point. The point is to diversify the tax base so that homeowners are not the only source of property tax revenue. You don’t relieve the future burden on homeowners simply by adding a few more homeowners. In fact you increase their burden because in future years the inevitable need for increased revenues will just as inevitably lead to their door. There is a reason that sound planning theory calls for tax base diversity and sound planning does not cease to be sound inside the borders of Milton. The residential development of the DPW Yard will remove more or less permanently from consideration one of the few large parcels of land remaining in Milton suitable for commercial development. Such action would be astoundingly shortsighted. The abutters to the DPW yard deserve to have their concerns heard and addressed where possible. But they do not deserve veto power in this process. Nor should the dedicated, visible efforts of a couple of dozen people, perhaps understandably motivated by a "Not in My Backyard" attitude, be mistaken for the views of the Town as a whole. The RFP for the DPW yard should reflect the needs of the entire town and the planning work which resulted in the Community Development Plan. It should have as one of its primary aims the diversification of Milton’s tax base.

The RFP Citizens Advisory Committee is seeking citizen input. You can provide it with an email to:

The next meeting of the committee is Tuesday October 25 in the basement conference room of Town Hall.


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