The Carnation’s candidate Q&A series continues with Jayne Wellman, one of three incumbents running. Wellman is seeking re-election to the Select Board. See other profiles as well as letters from and about candidates here.
All candidates running in Tewksbury were invited to respond, and we appreciate those who took the time to help the Carnation inform voters.
Name: Jayne Wellman Seat sought: Select Board
1. Why do you want to serve on the Select Board?
I love the work. I’ve served in a variety of capacities over the years, from School Committee to Town Moderator and various committees, including Open Space & Recreation and the Cable Advisory group that made TewksburyTV a reality. But the work of the Select Board has been by far the most rewarding.
Examples of things I’ve been privileged to work on for our town include:
Senior and veteran tax relief: Working with the Town Manager and the Assessor, we have identified two measures we can utilize through a home rule petition to increase the amount of tax relief for our most vulnerable seniors, as well as for veterans.
We do still have a senior tax work-off program, but it’s accessible only by those able to work. I want to help our elders who have mobility or memory issues, or chronic illness, to stay in their homes as long as possible. We also have tax deferral programs, so that seniors can put off certain payments. These are options adult children can discuss with their parents. But by increasing the income limits and the amount of tax relief, we can help keep more people in their homes. We will talk about this at the Select Board meeting next week, and I hope residents will come out to Town Meeting in May to support these petitions.
Editor’s note: This Q&A was finalized before the March 8 Select Board meeting. Residents can see a summary of that meeting here.
For more information on tax relief, visit our website at www.tewksbury-ma.gov/169/Exemptions
Supporting our first responders: Investing in our community means investing in the people who are there for us when we need help — police, fire, dispatchers and yes, public works. I know fellow residents who wouldn’t be here today were it not for our first responders. Supporting them through the last two years of the pandemic has been top of mind for me, and I’ve worked to ensure that they have the PPE needed, that they can do their work and respond to our residents with the equipment they need to stay safe.
That requires funding, and I have advocated for a State Owned Land Payment In Lieu of Taxes from the Commonwealth to Tewksbury for the State Hospital. That would create a sustainable stream of revenue that would better enable us to operate a second ambulance and help defray the costs associated with serving Tewksbury State Hospital.
The State Hospital is an important part of our community and an economic engine, but Tewksbury taxpayers should no longer have to subsidize operations there by footing the bill for police and fire responses.
Infrastructure: Sidewalks have been one of the top three requests from this community, and I support the Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan and the continuous, methodical process to connect sidewalks to one another and to commerce along Main St. It’s a slower process than we’d like, but every single stretch of sidewalk improves pedestrian safety and gets us closer to our goal.
We know that aging infrastructure creates the water main breaks that drive us all nuts. I’m proud that we designated all our ARPA funds to water infrastructure to reduce breaks in the future. And I’m very excited that the Main St. resurfacing project is about to begin. After spending five years on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), this project was bid out last fall. I’ve advocated for a transparent project schedule, including a public meeting so homeowners and businesses will understand how and when the project will impact their driveways, parking lots and more.
I’m so proud of all this town has accomplished during a difficult two years. Our business community is growing. The additional liquor licenses that Town Meeting approved are being utilized by new and expanding businesses in town. We have a lot coming before us, work that the residents want us to take on, and the future is bright. I want to continue to be on the front lines and contribute a steady hand with solid fiscal experience.
2. Give us a brief bio: Where you grew up, family, interests.
I grew up in the thriving metropolis of Bangor, Maine. I came to Massachusetts for college, where I met my husband. In 2001 we purchased our home in Tewksbury, where we raised our two kids, Luke and Elizabeth Miller. My primary interests are local government, reading and getting out into nature hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking. I have served on a variety of committees and groups in the community and am also dedicated in service to my church, Christ Church Andover (Episcopal) where I most recently served as Senior Warden.
3. What is your education?
I am a strong believer in the power of education to unlock opportunities. After graduating with honors from Bangor High School, I studied Economics and International Relations at Tufts University. I spent a year at University College London studying economics. While there I had an internship in Parliament. I earned a graduate certificate in business management from UMass Lowell’s Manning School in 2012. I am also certified as an MCPPO, in municipal finance from Suffolk and in OSD purchasing, and I have completed numerous FEMA courses.
Most recently, I began work on my Master’s in Public Administration at the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH.
4. What is your “day job,” and how do your past or current professional experiences prepare you for service on the Select Board?
I am privileged to work as the Business Administrator for the Town of Reading, where for the last six years I’ve managed communications and risk and worked on budgets and special projects.
Previously I was the news editor for the Town Crier newspapers in Tewksbury and Wilmington, covering local government, tax rates, budgets, interest stories and much more. Through this work I got to know both communities and their residents.
Earlier in my career I worked for a thought leadership firm focused on search engine optimization, online commerce and B2B partner relationships and marketing.
5. If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next three years as a Select Board member? What is your platform? (feel free to include a link to your website or Facebook page)
As previously mentioned, I’m excited about continuing to work to secure tax relief for our most vulnerable seniors. Why tax relief and not just more affordable housing? Because many seniors want to stay in their own homes, and we can help make that happen! To that end, I will work to make sure families know where to access help, such as a fantastic Home Modification Loan program from CTI that can help families build the accessory dwelling suites that are so popular in town; the ability to defer certain tax and water bills; and much more.
That said, we do have a shortage of affordable as well as subsidized housing, not just in Tewksbury but across the state. Many of our kids can’t afford to buy a home or rent an apartment in our community. Young families, single parents and members of our workforce are often priced out. I have reached out to Community Teamwork Inc. to work regionally on addressing the unhoused population and construct new housing in town. We have new mandates from the state regarding the siting of affordable housing, and we want to plan for the best locations and development so that we are less vulnerable to 40b projects.
Three other areas of focus:
Teen Center and low-cost summer programs: Something I would like to see is the restoration of the Teen Center at Livingston St. and eventually a program to offer summer parks jobs to local kids. Reopening the Teen Center could be a relatively low-cost — or even financially self-sustaining — way to provide both a safe place for teens to go and also low-cost summer programming for younger kids at the playground with access to the splash pad.
Veterans housing and transportation: As we work to support the opening of a dedicated veterans housing project with SoldierOn, we also need to secure better transit options for our vets to get to the Bedford VA hospital. I am beginning work with neighboring communities to make this happen.
Constituent services: This is the best part of being on the Select Board — helping people. Every day I receive calls and emails about housing, sidewalks, vacant parcels, tax title issues, water and sewer bills, Route 38 improvements, property taxes, water quality, potholes, new developments, old developments, schools, trails, open space, dogs and much more.
Lately, I’ve worked to help the residents on South Street impacted by an illegally built work yard in Andover that’s having a major negative impact on abutting Tewksbury residential properties. That effort is ongoing and one I want to see through.
It’s always a pleasure to meet and talk to residents and business owners, even when the issue is challenging.
6. How do you define your budget priorities if tough decisions have to be made?
First, do no harm. Maintaining service levels is the priority, then addressing the needs of departments to do their jobs: Do our police and fire departments have the equipment they require? Does the DPW?
That said, I default to avoiding a crisis by ensuring our budget remains sustainable. We do that by focusing on conservative budgeting, certifying free cash and using one-time monies to make one-time expenditures. The Town Manager has done a great job, with Town staff, the Select Board and Finance Committee, of building our town’s stabilization fund up to $11.4 million.
Tewksbury has never had a Prop 2 ½ override. I remember the financial straits this town faced during the Great Recession, so strong fiscal control matters. At the same time, to maintain our bond ratings and our service commitment to the public, investment in infrastructure matters. Our budget reflects our values as a community.
7. Describe an activity, group or committee you’ve been involved with in town and what you accomplished as part of that team.
I’ve been on the Open Space and Recreation plan committee, the Cable Advisory Committee, I founded Tewksbury Rail Trails, I was president of the Rotary club. I have decades of experience in private- and public-sector leadership.
But the most rewarding of late was when during the pandemic I worked with our town staff and identified a financial partner to create a Rental and Mortgage Assistant program with Cares Act Funding. I was part of this effort in my day job and wanted to help Tewksbury renters, homeowners and landlords who suddenly found themselves, or their tenants, out of work. I brought together key staff and financial partners in both communities to bring this program forward quickly.
I really believe in the starfish parable, in helping individuals. Each and every resident is equal and important to the fabric of our community.
8. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Tewksbury, and how will you address it?
If you ask the Fire Department, the most important thing is a second ambulance. Businesses will say sustainable tax rates and smooth permitting. Residents want stable water and sewer rates, better roads and lower taxes.
I think healing from the existential ache of the pandemic, perhaps, is also one of the biggest challenges right now. We need to come together and work together to move our town forward.
We’ve all seen towns torn apart by fights over masks, in person or remote schools and more. Staff have been yelled at by residents. The rhetoric is sometimes tough and hurtful, and not just in our community. But Tewksbury rallies around our own when things get hard — when a house burns down, people step in to find housing, clothing and funds. I’ve seen residents pull together to provide sports and club opportunities to all children, no matter their ability, through multiple organizations. The community came together to pass the new TMHS as well as the new elementary school currently under construction, build open space and trails and fund a new Center Fire Station.
Ultimately we are one community, ONE Tewksbury, and we know that while we may have differences of opinion on a variety of topics, we have each chosen to invest here. Our schools are as important as our senior services, which are as important as our veterans services and public safety and public works. All of the services together serve our residents and our businesses, so we can play golf, hear live music, have a fun night out with friends and attend a variety of activities with our children. Open space and fields offer plentiful recreation for all ages.
Do we have work to do? Always. But the important takeaway is that we have a vibrant and diverse community, open and welcoming, where older residents want to stay and young people want to build a future.
9. Do you support the new DPW facility? Why or why not?
Currently, I support a new DPW facility. It’s something we’ve long known is a community need. When we supported moving forward to explore this project, a few years ago, the Board’s first, most important question was: Can we do it within the levy limit?
That’s the goal, to not take on debt on top of the existing tax levy. So, unlike the new elementary school, which raised taxes temporarily to pay for the bonding, for this project we would fund the debt service from our regular budget, just like folks do at home when they save up for a down payment for a car then cover the monthly note from their regular budgets.
We’re projecting to spend around $30 million. How it will work is, the town aims to use several sources to raise about $5 million. This will come from the overlay, stabilization (about $2 to $3 million) and enterprise accounts retained earnings. It’s doable since we have built the stabilization fund up to $11.4 million.
Then, we would bond out the remaining $25 million and make those payments out of our annual budget. With the building as old as it is, it cannot be rehabbed fully, but some of it can be reused. It will also be a shared space with our school facilities department, allowing them to get their fleet out of private garages that we’re paying rent for and protected under our roof. The facility will offer appropriate office space for staff, training and break rooms for our crews, and be brought into the 21st Century with modern electrical and heating systems. The old building is incredibly drafty, and we waste a lot of energy.
While we’ll look at reusing what we can, as with many projects, new construction is less expensive than renovations. With the pandemic and associated supply chain issues impacting all areas of the market, the cost estimates greatly increased. Work is underway to rework plans to keep the scope of the project in line with the budget. We’ll design to maximize value for money, while still protecting our Public Works fleet and employees.
As I said earlier, Public Works crews are also first responders. Whenever there is a crisis, DPW crews are working behind the scenes in all the ways needed to support police and fire and the community.
10. What would you say to residents to encourage them to vote for you?
Having decades of leadership experience in both the public and private sector, and being dedicated to municipal government with many roles locally, I bring a tiered understanding and a track record of problem solving. I don’t grandstand, I do the work. Every day. I look for innovative and creative solutions to improve our community.
I may take some heat, but I promise that I’ll always stand up for what I believe is right for Tewksbury, whether it’s looking inward at our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, seeking a PILOT for the State Hospital to fund our first responders or standing up for affordable housing solutions regionally.