By Michael Herbert
Town Manager

There are several questions that have been raised in the context of Ballot Question #4 for the Public Safety Building. Many of these relate to spending in general and spending on recent projects or upcoming projects. In general, I will say that what we have tried to do is demonstrate that each of the projects below has an impact on the entire community. Thinking of things as dichotomies such as “school vs. town” or “old vs. new” is the stale way of thinking that kept this community from moving forward.

Also, we have also tried to think strategically about spending and spend some local funds in order to gain access to and leverage state and federal grants. That is one of the ways we have been able to move a lot of projects forward recently. Here are a few specific questions:

If the Public Safety Building was a priority, why did we spend $3.5 million on the Valentine Property?

When discussing any recent land acquisition, I think it is important for readers to know that we have heard loudly that residents want us to better plan for and curb development. The only way to do that unfortunately is to own the property. The Valentine Estate was a unique situation. We knew it would cost more money than simple raw land because it was already permitted for 100 units. That’s why the Selectmen wanted to put it on the ballot so the residents could decide. And that is why the $3.5 million could only be spent on the Valentine Estate.

Won’t we be jeopardizing the building of a new Mindess School if we vote for this?

In my professional opinion, if Question 4 fails it will put taxpayers in a situation where they potentially have to choose between funding a new public safety building or a new school. Why is that? Well, we now have the opportunity to have the state pay for $25 million of a $30 million project. But we need to pass a $3.5 million debt exclusion first. If that vote fails, in a few years we are going to have to ask the voters again for a debt exclusion, except this time it will be a $35 million debt exclusion (due to the loss of state funding and escalating costs). This will happen roughly the same time as a new school needs to be voted on. Do you want to see a ballot with two debt exclusions, one for $35 million and one for $50 million? I can’t think of anything more that could divide this town back into the “school” vs. “town” mindset.

Didn’t we just spend $1.2 million for a Riverwalk project? Why didn’t we just use those funds for the Public Safety Building?

Over 75% of the funding for this project could only be used for projects like the Riverwalk (meaning they couldn’t be used for public safety building). Furthermore, over 50% of the project was funded through state and federal grants ($650,000 in total).

Question #4 on the ballot does not list an amount. Isn’t that like writing town government a blank check?

State law does not allow us to put the amount on the ballot vote. However there are two restrictions in place that does not make this a “blank check”. First, the ballot language restricts the use of the funds to “design, engineering, and owners project manager services”. We cannot use it for construction. Second, at Town Meeting on November 28, the amount will be listed on the warrant article, and will be restricted to $3.5 million.

Some people are saying that the site that is being donated is unbuildable. Is that correct?

This is absolutely incorrect. A detailed site investigation was performed by our consultant, and they have found the site buildable. Furthermore, the town recently negotiated the donation of an additional 6 acres on the parcel, bringing the total acreage being donated to 10 acres. This not only gives us plenty of room for a public safety building, but also helps facilitate other projects like the Upper Charles Trail and even a skate park or dog park for the community.

Don’t we spend enough already?

Ashland is actually the best value in Metrowest today. If you look at the town’s expenditures per capita, you will see out of 13 Metrowest Communities, we are second from last. The only community that is lower is Marlborough. If we want to have a community that we can be proud of, we need to spend a little more. The key is to spend effective and efficiently.