>>Valley Patriot>>

Chasing the Holy Grail
Lonnie Brennan, Georgetown Selectman

There’s good news for almost everyone in town this month, but not so in taxes.

The Finance Advisory Board has been meeting and the “O” word has been tossed around a lot. Override, that is. Hefty tax increases in the future, or the gift that keeps on taking. But for now, let’s start with a brief follow-up on our current tax bills.
Last month, this column reflected the first initial blush at some tax assessment information unearthed recently, and while some might take offense to printing questions and data and charts, I’ve always believed it’s best to kick the hornet’s nest and get things out in the open to discuss. It can be uncomfortable for many (including the kicker), but you can never tell where it will truly lead.

“We Made a Mistake”

Subsequent to that column, I met with our assistant assessor/office manager and asked him why certain properties had such wide changes in tax assessments (plus 15% for someone, minus 15% for someone else??), and specifically asked why a house owned by an assessor’s daughter stood out as having dropped so dramatically in value.

The short answer: “there were some errors made.”

In this case, it appears we can blame Charlie. You see, Charlie works for an outside assessing firm which the town hired to help expedite a state-required re-certification process this past year. Time constraints were high and in the rush, we got “quantity, not quality.” Charlie went around town and made his notes and gave his inputs as requested. But in the process, he made some “changes.”

I pulled out a ruler to measure the nearly 4-inch-tall stack of paper (estimated anywhere from 800 to perhaps 1,000 potential changes/errors) presented on the conference table: redlines/notes/changes/errors. By way of reference, there are 2,388 single-family dwellings in town.

Fellow taxpayer, I must confess it was more than I could digest in one sitting. Staggering - the shear volume of work required to examine these changes. I started wondering: What was Charlie thinking? How did he look at one of the elected Board of Assessor’s daughter’s house, a house with a balcony deck out back on the second-floor, overlooking a golf course, on nearly two acres of land, and change its classification to a “ranch”? A wrong classification that needed to be fixed and corrected, I was told.

Clearly, there’s a lot of work needed now to troll through Charlie’s work. Most of the changes are perhaps “minor” and won’t affect your tax bill, perhaps. And a lot of the things might not be errors at all. It might be good work by Charlie, and there’s no sense in condemning him for a few (?) errors. But, my suggestion: if you received an increase higher than 6% this year, ask the assessor one question: have you changed my house style or the number of stories in my home in your assessment this past year? If the answer is yes, you know what to do! I’ll tell you one thing. If you received a decrease in excess of 6%, folks will be looking at ya.

I’ll keep kicking this nest. There appears to be more things to learn and it will be interesting to see what corrections are to be made.

Where’s the Budget?

Want to learn about the proposed requests by the various town departments for next year’s budget? Proposed new hires, dramatically changing hours and corresponding salaries (changing a part-timer to a full-timer), etc.? Well, as of this printing you still cannot get any information from the Finance Advisory Board’s websites. Really.

I asked if the board would share the draft budget proposals with you, the taxpayers, by posting these drafts on its websites (it has an official town website, and recently the board started its own private website). The answer: NO!

Actually, for full disclosure, the answer wasn’t just no, it was a very vocal FinCom member Sandy Gerraughty admonishing me and calling it “irresponsible” to post any draft budgets online, as I have done at www.George-townToday.com. I attempted to explain the benefits of allowing folks to “play along at home” by reading the budgets which are sometimes discussed when they televise some of their meetings (hey, at least some of their meetings get televised now, a big improvement from prior years), and that getting the information out there, in the public eye, for folks to see the draft can only help. No. No. No was the answer.

So, I posted the new budget online again via wireless card connection, before leaving their meeting. Being a selectman has one privilege: the Advisory Board can’t deny me access to the information, and what I get, you’ll get.

She Said She Said?

Not sure what to add about the exchange between FinCom member Sandy Gerraughty and our Library Director Ruth Eiffert. What should have been a simple exchange of information ended up with FinCom member Tim Rhu seemingly apologizing to Ms. Eiffert for the rough treatment by a couple of his fellow board-mates.
Here’s how it went:

Sandy: I guess, Ruth, I have a question for you. Two years ago when you came before the FinCom, in regards to looking for the library, we specifically asked you what your anticipation was for increases in operating expenses.

Ruth: Yup.

Sandy: And you said you didn’t anticipate any increases in operating expenses.

Ruth: No. No, I did not.

Sandy: Now, we’ve got ... and we asked you if you could operate your library based on the current operating budget as it stood two years ago and you said, yes, you could.

Ruth: No, I did not say that.

Sandy: Yes, you did.

Ruth: No. No.

Sandy: It’s just that...

Ruth: From the moment I approached this committee, every year that I have presented this budget to this committee ... I have consistently asked for an increase ... You certainly would be remiss to actually admit that you wouldn’t need any more staffing or you wouldn’t need any more operating expenses for a new larger library.
And on it went until Ruth referenced at least three prior meetings where she had presented a proposed increase. Subsequent to this meeting, Ruth and Laura Zalewski, chair of the library board of trustees, presented documentation and references from at least five prior public meetings and presentations to the town and boards to prove their consistency. “You cannot go from a 4,000 square feet building into a 16,000 square foot building and not have more utilities,” Ruth explained. “It’s just impossible.” Perhaps, if we can get more budget data and drafts and projection up on websites and such, we can avoid she said/she said moments in the future?

Can I Sell You a Bridge?

I would be remiss myself to not mention that at this same FinCom meeting they chose to leave the Bailey Lane Culvert Crossing closed. And when our town administrator presented his request for $5,500 to get emergency access through that area (police, ambulances), and stated that he had worked with our highway guy on the numbers, our highway guy told the FinCom, “I didn’t come prepared tonight to talk about this. I don’t have my file with me.” He then went on to object to the opening, as he has in the past, instead seeking a complete re-build of the area to the tune of $60K in engineering work and perhaps $200K in construction work. The culvert crossing spans 12 feet and is approximately four feet above the mud. In March, an ambulance got lost down at the dead end at 1:22 a.m. one morning. Confused that we now have three Bailey Lanes, Upper, Middle, and Lower, the driver got stuck. Human error. We’re told it wasn’t an emergency, just a taxpayer on Mohawk Circle waiting to get ambulance transport to the hospital. Poor Mohawk Circle. Tick, tick, at least a 5-minute delay as the ambulance was misdirected.

PTA: Sometimes It Is About the Money

And on a much more positive and happy note, over the past seven years the PTA has contributed more than $300,000 to our schools. This is extra money contributed by donors and those who support the various PTA fundraisers and events.

We’ve been blessed with the hard work and leadership of the executive board. Hats off to PTA President Lisa Woodford, Amy Purcell, Heidi Garozzo, and our long-time Treasurer Robin O’Malley who will be stepping down after years of tremendous service. Everyone extends the greatest of thanks to you, Robin.

Lonnie Brennan is a selectman in Georgetown, you can email him at lonnie@the chocolatecellar.com.

 *Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The March 2007 Edition of the Valley Patriot
The Valley Patriot is a Monthly Publication.
All Contents (C) 2007
, Valley Patriot, Inc.
We publish 12,000 newspapers and distribute in Andover, North Andover,
Methuen, Haverhill, Chelmsford, Georgetown, Groveland, Boxford, Amesbury,
Lawrence, Dracut, Tewksbury, MERRIMACK, Hampton & Salisbury Beach, and Lowell.

Valley Patriot Archive

Valley Patriot Story

Prior Lead Stories

Prior Valley Patriot Editorials

Prior Columns by ...

Tom Duggan
Dr. Chuck Ormsby
Paula Porten
Ralph Wilbur
Ted Tripp

Valley Patriot of the Month


Patrick Blanchette
D.J. Beauregard
Jim Cassidy
D.J. Deeb
Marcos Devers
Bob Desmarais
Regina Faticanti
Jim Fiorentini
Bill Kelly
Wilfredo Laboy
Peter Larocque
Vilma Lora
Ed Maguire
Billy Manzi
Paul Murano
Mark Palermo
Hartley Pleshaw
Debbie Quinn
Raise Em Right
Dr. Peary
Kathleen Corey Rahme
Barney Reilly
Angel Rivera
Jim Rurak
Grisel Silva
Mike Sullivan
Sandra Stotsky
Mike Sweeney
Ken Willette
Scott Wood
Jim Xenakis