The Tewksbury Select Board met last night to discuss the tax classification, a new funding request for Soldier On and the town manager’s goals.
1. The residential/commercial tax shift will move from 1.56 in FY21 to 1.59 for FY22. But that doesn’t mean residential tax bills will go down or even stay level. Town assessor Joanne Foley’s report to the board showed a 5% year-over-year jump in value for an average single-family home. Condos and commercial properties stayed fairly flat, at 1.1% and 0.8% respectively.
Homeowners can expect an average hike of $282.
The board again voted no on a residential exemption, but they did express keen interest in working with the town’s legislative delegation to explore taxing large apartment complexes at the commercial property rate.
2. From FY19 to FY22 the average single-family home has increased in value from $404,963 to $489,065; the average tax bill went up about $1,000 over that timeframe. But Tewksbury could be poised to see residential valuation increases of around 10% next fiscal year based on strong 2021 sales.
“It could be higher than that,” said Foley. “We’ve seen some communities suggesting a 12% to 15% increase.”
Given that, the 1.59 recommendation leaves some flexibility for 2022.
Resident Bruce Schick questioned why Tewksbury has no property in the Open Space classification. Foley responded that the state defines open space as privately owned and taxable but accessible for public use. Tewksbury’s open space is held by the town.
“I prefer open space to be held by the town,” said Schick, a longtime advocate for preservation. “But I would also be happy, as an open space advocate, for the open space to be preserved under a conservation easement and still owned by a private entity and therefore, get the 25% reduction. I think we need to consider that approach.”
The board voted four to one to accept the 1.59% recommendation with chair Jay Kelly voting nay, preferring a higher shift from residents to commercial.
3. Soldier On requested an additional $500,000 above the $350,000 already committed from Tewksbury’s Affordable Housing Trust, for a total of $850,000, or $40,000 per unit, in support of its proposed construction of 21 affordable studio and one-bedroom permanent veterans housing units at 1660 Main St.
The town currently has about $5 million in the Trust from payments approved by the Planning Board in lieu of affordable units in new construction.
Board co-chair Jayne Wellman expressed support for the project but requested more in-depth financial documentation from Soldier On’s Bruce Buckley, including several years of audited financials, an operating budget and bank statements, before committing additional funds.
“I’ve really wrestled with this request over the last few days … and I think my colleagues have summed it up pretty well. One of the most important and influential people in my life was my father-in-law, who lived with my family for nearly 30 years, and he sacrificed his eyesight shortly after D-Day at 19 years old and service to our country,” said board member Todd Johnson. “There’s no greater cause, in my opinion, than service and support of our veterans. I lived it, first hand, every single day for many, many years. But I’m really troubled by this request, to be honest.”
Johnson and other members specifically called out the state for in effect sending the nonprofit back, hat in hand, and trying to shift the fiscal responsibility from a state to a local level.
“It just feels a little bit ingenuine to come right back and bring our doorbell,” said Kelly. “We already delivered.”
Johnson suggested working with the town’s delegation to secure more funding at the state level. Ultimately the board tabled the request until Soldier On produces the requested paperwork.
“This is a big ask for everybody,” said Buckley. “Believe me, I wish we weren’t here asking for money to house our homeless veterans.”
4. Town manager Richard Montuori outlined work he and his team have done over the past year as well as goals for 2022. On the list: continuing the Rail Trail initiative and funding sidewalk improvements within the capital budget, working with open space volunteer groups to complete CPA projects and implement new initiatives and continue work on land transfers with the Commonwealth.
“Specifically, one of the objectives was to work with the local delegation on bringing conclusion to the cemetery land transfer,” said Montuori. “There really has been no progress in that area.”
He also cited the FY22 budget approval at Town Meeting.
“We had no financial issues at the end of FY21,” he said. “We closed with a surplus.”
For 2022, goals include:
- Supporting the school administration and the Elementary School Building Committee regarding the new Center elementary school and focusing on the best use of the Ella Fleming school, potentially to house the mental health collaborative.
- Continue to seek funding from the state to complete remaining improvements to Rt. 38 from Colonial Drive to Salem Road.
- Work to construct boardwalks for the open space trails.
- Incorporate the Local Housing Partnership responsibilities into the administration’s daily activities. Residents may recall that the LHP dissolved itself, with all appointed members resigning.
Montuori is also working with the IT manager and select board member James Mackey on assessing the town’s cybersecurity needs and implementing changes and improvements as required.
The town recently received a cybersecurity grant for $10,000.
“We’re going to make sure that that’s going towards some of these cybersecurity activities that we need to complete,” said Montuori. “Thanks to Selectman Mackey and his education and knowledge in this area that he’s provided us.”
The new town website, another priority for Mackey, is also progressing.
“Are any of your goals going to drive a budget request in the next year?” asked Wellman.
Montuori replied that the biggest budget driver is going to be the DPW school maintenance facility but that he doesn’t see any major budgetary impacts in the presented goals and objectives.
“We are in the middle of the pandemic and everything takes twice as long and is a lot more difficult and challenging,” said Stronach. “So the fact that we were able to keep our goals as a town on track and keep those projects on track is really a credit to the work of the town manager and his staff, and the empowerment that he does with his staff, which I think is really critical.”
5. Wellman brought up a recent story in the Lowell Sun that raised some eyebrows in Tewksbury.
“I was disturbed last week, as I suspect, some of you all were, reading in the Lowell Sun about the Lowell City Council working to find solutions for their unhoused population,” said Wellman. “A particular member suggested they do that by moving that population to the Tewksbury State Hospital.”
The article indicated that CTI supported that particular motion, so Wellman reached out to the CTI program director, who stressed that the discussion was around doing a feasibility for roughly 120 unhoused individuals and that the State Hospital comment was “off the cuff.”
“We have our own unhoused population in Tewksbury,” said Wellman, who conveyed to CTI that should there be discussion around a regional approach to the problem, she and other members of Tewksbury leadership would like to have a seat at that table.
In closing, Stronach reminded residents to attend the tree lighting on the common on Friday.
“The events committee worked really hard on it, there are going to be lots of fun activities and, of course, the guy in the big red suit will be on hand to participate,” she said.
Johnson and Mackey updated the board on work being done by the Zoning Bylaw Committee. The second public outreach hearing will be next week.
“This outreach meeting will be televised in response to requests,” said Mackey. “We’re leaning into that feedback.”
Finally, Kelly called out the situation with the unpermitted contractors yard on South St. and said he would attend the meeting this week in Andover and read testimony from assistant town manager Steve Sadwick.
The next select board meeting will be Dec. 21.