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October 6, 2017
BRUNSWICK TOWN COUNCIL DEBATES TAX RELIEF
How “ironic” it is that this Town Council, after requesting (and allowing) a “go big” self-funded elementary school bond issue to go to referendum and annually acting as a virtual “rubber stamp” of approval for school board budget requests, is now absurdly discussing tax relief. This pseudo governing body in Brunswick Maine has irresponsibly burdened and decimated the taxpayers of this town with unaffordable school budgets and bond debt leading to current and future burgeoning property tax increases, and they have the “gall” to pretend that they are considering any realistic form of tax relief. To say this is absurd and insulting is an understatement. The ultimate irony is that the taxpayers, when given the chance to put a stop to this madness by voting down these budgets and bond issues in June referendums, stay home and do not vote. Pathetic!
Based on various local publications, the council meeting this past Monday, October 2, included comments from only a few of the members regarding tax relief. It was reported that one suggestion included a cap of $100,000, for one year, be put on any assistance and that factors like age, residency, and income limits be considered. So this same group of council members who supported a $40,000,000 town funded school bond and a $38,000,000 school budget are magnanimously, and absurdly, discussing a $100,000 tax relief program with all sorts of limits and qualifications. Mathematically, $100,000 divided by $78,000,000 equals .0013%. That is the relief deal this group of individuals is considering to help the Citizens of Brunswick. These are the people you allowed to be elected to represent your interests as citizens of the Town of Brunswick. How are they doing?
On top of all this, two years from now, your taxes will start going up a minimum of 4% per year (more likely 6 to 8%), every year, for the next 15 years to pay for the new school we can’t afford and for normal town budgets. Add that to your recent re-evaluation increase. All the while, your town services will continue to go under-funded, roads will get worse, existing schools will deteriorate due to lack of maintenance, and other infrastructure will decline. In all likelihood, a number of business will close or leave town, because of the tax burden, and property values will decline due to the high levels of residential property taxes that would hinder any prospective home buyers. This is the legacy being created by your current town government. Their convenient excuse is that the voters have the ultimate responsibility for anything they do. Instead of making rational decisions, they have a “pass-the-buck” mentality.
As one council member said to me once, “we only get paid a couple of thousand dollars to do this job which requires a lot of our time….we can only be expected to do so much.” Well, apparently we get what we pay for while the town buries us in tax debt. What a deal! This is what happens in a town where people don’t get involved, do not speak out, are not aware, don’t care, and give up their only effective power by not voting. It is what this town allows and what it deserves. What a shame and a pity.
September 9, 2017
As a follow up to the comments below of September 2, the Town Council hearing this past Tuesday, September 5th, just confirms how misguided and inept our collective town government is. As expected, over half of the meeting related to, directly or indirectly, the 946 Merepoint Road lot issue. While the town of Brunswick, and its citizens, are headed for fiscal collapse our esteemed Town Council continues to waste our and their time discussing how proceeds from the property tax default on that lot, by the previous owner, will be scarfed up to be used to either (“laughably”) mitigate the overwhelming tax burden we all are currently being place under due to horrific governance, or to go into a fund to help maintain access, through land purchases, to our beautiful mud flats.
It is hard to see, from this town council, how things could get more pathetic and bizarre, but they manage to do so all the time. It was stated in this meeting by one of our council members that the former owner of the lot defaulted on paying his taxes not because he could not afford to, but because he no longer wanted to come to Brunswick. While that certainly could be understood considering how unaffordable and dis-functional the town is getting, the back taxes on the lot were only $65,000. The lot was originally valued between $200,000 to $300,000 or so dollars and finally sold for over $500,000. Think about that for a second…..the previous owner walked away from about $435,000 in profit (after paying the tax money he owed and could afford to pay) on his land “because he just didn’t like coming to Brunswick anymore”??? Huh? He chose not to pay the property taxes, and lost up to $435,000 in proceeds from the sale of his lot!
Click on the image above to hear the excerpt from the council meeting on this.
September 2, 2017
946 Mere Point Road…..an issue of special-interest concern that has taken an inordinate amount of time and attention away from really serious issues currently facing this befuddled town of Brunswick Maine. While residents have to put up with skyrocketing property taxes, declining and crumbling town services and infrastructure, and future fiscal collapse due to mounting education related debt, a selfish few are focused on their specific property values or are stubbornly fixated on additional accessibility to our local mud flats, where current access is abundantly available, under-maintained, and under-used.
This is a town governed and driven by self interest, selfishness, irrationality and total irresponsibility. Yes, a town where they tear down or give away sturdy well-built historic school buildings, replace them with poorly designed shoddy structures, and are now nearly catatonic about keeping one small irrelevant parcel of land on our climatologically eroding shores or about keeping a rusty unsafe bridge between here and Topsham. These types of issues get all the attention. Meanwhile, one of our fire stations and its equipment is falling apart, our roads are deplorable, and other poorly designed newer school buildings are already deteriorating due to fiscal neglect.
This is a mismanaged town (because of how decisions are made), out of control, arrogantly and irresponsibly governed, with misplaced priorities and no focus. And to acerbate the situation, most of the residents are oblivious to what is going on or don’t care. More comments to follow. In the meantime….
August 31, 2017
Let’s add to the Brunswick town government “SNAFU” list…..
1. Miller Point clear cut oversight.
2. 946 Mere Point lot fiasco.
3. The $400,000 Town Hall ($1,200,000) underestimate.
4. High School failing boiler mystery
5. Jordan Acres poor design and premature abandonment.
6. Land Fill compliance problems.
7. Coffin School lack of maintenance and funding.
8. Neglected crumbling central fire station and outdated fire trucks and equipment.
9. $40,000,000 elementary school loan dumped on taxpayers for 30 years.
10. Underfunded municipal budgets leading to reduced town services.
11. Bloated and unaffordable school budgets for teacher salaries and benefits.
12. Poor planning and over-reliance on reduced state funding.
13. Trading / giving away and demolition of usable school buildings.
14. An outdated ineffective Town Charter and Town Government structure.
Have you had enough folks, or do you just want the list to grow while your heads are buried in the sand?
August 24, 2017
Brunswick Town Government Just Keeps The Insanity Going
The Town Council of Brunswick will be holding a hearing on September 5th to amend the town budget to reduce the tax increase, for 2017, from 3% to 2.5%. Yet another effort to deflect their incompetence, gloss over their mismanagement, and mask what is coming in 2021. More comments to follow……
So here is the deal according to news stories. The school budget that was approved this past June by the the school lobby, while most of the registered voters in town stayed home and remained in their “lack of awareness comas”, contained cuts requested by the Town Council. The cuts included a number of teaching positions that would be left unfilled due to retirements and a few that would be terminated. It was the expectation that state funds that were yet to be received would make up for those cuts, and the positions that were probably unnecessary in the first place, would be reinstated. The plan was that there would be an approximate $600,000 coming back from the state $400,000 of which would be kicked back to the schools and $200,000 would be used for the Homestead Exemption tax relief for eligible taxpayers.
So apparently there has been a reduction in state reimbursement for the homestead exemption leaving the town $200,000 in the hole. The school board / education lobby are getting their state reimbursement to insure they continue to eat up over 60% of the town budget and to insure they get their yearly pay raises, while the taxpayers get screwed. The School Board is happy and their friends on the Town Council can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that all is well with their mutual interests, at the expense of the taxpayers.
Now the dilemma. How does the Town Council placate the semi-conscious citizens of Brunswick to make sure that the few that actually are somewhat aware of what is going on in town, or care, are pacified so they don’t make too much noise and wake up the rest of the snoozing apathetic voters. As far as the homestead shortfall goes, the only choice is to shift taxpayer dollars, in the 40% of the town budget that actually goes to running the town, from one budget bucket to another in a fiscal shell game. No thought, of course, would be given to using any of that $400,000 going to re-hire teachers we cannot afford and most likely do not need.
The ultimate issue is, as quoted by our Town manager, that “the .5% decrease, if approved, would be only for this year and funded by a one-time source that will need to be made up next year.” Huh? Is that town government speak for “however stupid, irrelevant, and irresponsible this idea is now, it will come back to bite you next year.” For 12 months you will seem to feel good even though the disease will come back again. This is your town government in action folks. This is how they try to keep masking their inability to govern and their total lack of desire to run the Town of Brunswick in a fair and professional manner. It is what the citizens are “allowing” them to do. Idiotic, irresponsible, and shameful!
Oh, and just as a reminder, starting in just a few short years, the property taxes in Brunswick Maine will spike exponentially when the elementary school bond starts being paid off, year after year for 20 – 30 years. All the above issues, the yearly unafforable education budgets, the underfunded town budgets, and the new school bond payments will come to an ugly head due to this pathetic lack of responsibility by both the town government and the lazy non-voters who apparently could care less how badly their town is being mismanaged and how irresponsibly and unnecessarily their tax dollars are being spent.
Just for your interest, click on the image above (the “stupidity quote by the Pope) to see the bond issue payoff table you, as a taxpayer, will be on the hook for year-by-year for a couple of decades, on top of your yearly town budget increases. The “cumul. tax impact” column shows how much your property tax will be going up each year, on top of any town / school budget tax increases each year. Remember, it is what is being allowed to take place in “Beautiful Brunswick!” It is what your town government dumped in your laps and now hopes you forget.
August 17, 2017
It Just Keeps Getting Worse – Because Of Disinterest
“Brunswick reviewing tax relief ideas” was the headline on August 16th, 2017 on the local news stands. The ineptitude of our town government is on display again, this time by both the Town Council and the Finance Committee. What do you do when you allow a totally unaffordable school budget and new school bond issue to go to referendum in a town where the majority of voters are unaware or disinterested, and the issues pass by apathetic default supported by a minority of the citizens? You mask and “cloud” the resulting ongoing and future fiscal crisis that will result by trying to put a band-aid on the situation, hoping to placate as many uninformed citizens as possible. When people finally wake up and see what will be happening to their property taxes in the near future and react in outrage, the town government will just pass their lack of governing responsibility on to the citizens saying that they could have voted to stop all of this. It is an irresponsible game our Town Council is playing and one the Brunswick citizens are falling for hook, line, and sinker.
To add insult to injury, as reported in the same news article, two of the tax relief options being discussed are “donations” and “appropriations from town money.” Think about that for a moment…let it sink in. Donations??? Our town leaders are contemplating soliciting donations to help taxpayers, presumably mostly retirees on fixed incomes, pay future skyrocketing property tax increases with donations? Maybe the idea is to have all residents over 65 canvass the neighborhoods, like the girl scouts with their cookies, soliciting other taxpayers for money to help pay their tax bills. You know a town is in trouble when it considers resorting to donations to help a significant segment of its citizens pay their property tax bills.
The second genius idea is to get tax assistance from appropriations “from town money”. That is a fancy way of saying take money from the 40% of the overall town budget that is left after the other 60% goes primarily to teacher salaries and benefits. The town is already underfunded to the point that they have been cutting back on road repair and other town services over the past years. So while the teachers and administrators get their raises and you get a new school you can’t afford, you as a citizen on a fixed income have a choice, unaffordable property tax or bad roads, deteriorating town buildings, understaffed police and fire departments, and other reduced town services. This is what your town government has dumped in your laps. We elected these people to represent the majority of the citizens and they have abdicated their responsibility by throwing decision making back to a “majority” electorate that cares little about accepting that responsibility.
Finally, to elevate the absurdity to a completely stratospheric level, some of the Town Council members on the Finance Committee are considering making “length of residency” as one of the criteria for getting any possible town assistance for property tax relief. So all of us retired people “from away” (as they like to call anyone who moves to Maine from anywhere else in the United States, the world, or other planets and galaxies) will have to pay our full unaffordable property tax and forget about getting any local assistance, if needed, since we haven’t lived and “paid” here long enough. Brunswick, a “Beautiful and Biased Town” where we will welcome you with open arms as long as you open your wallets and don’t expect anything in return. What’s next, “length of residency” based emergency services?
August 10, 2017
The headline in the August 9th edition of a local news publication read “Brunswick revaluation notices coming”. Our Town Manager was quoted as saying that “some changes will be larger in both directions than some would like to see, but that is the nature of the revaluation process.” Presumably that means that for some, their property tax will go up and for others their tax will go down. For those whose taxes go up, that is the way it goes, don’t complain, because you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait a few more years. Complaining won’t help then either.
Another article on the front page concerned another possible property tax increase of .5% caused by a change in the reimbursement from the state for the Homestead Exemption. The article suggested that the increase “bugs Brunswick residents.” Only one resident was named, so it is not apparent how many residents are “bugged” by this issue. Based on how many residents passed up their right to vote on the school budget and bond issue in this past June’s referendum, around 13,000, apparently not many citizens of Brunswick are “bugged” about anything in this town preferring instead to ignore what is happening around them and accepting their fate as apathetic bystanders.
The reality is that things will only be getting worse, a lot worse, when the bond issue payments for the new elementary school kick in a few years from now. Presumably a possible 6 to 9 percent combined property tax increase in the first year of that bond, and similar yearly property tax increases thereafter, are yet another issue the majority of the non-voters are willing to accept due to their lack of interest? As stated before, you get what you allow. If you want change, complaining is fruitless, voting is not.
August 3, 2017
July 27, 2017
Scarborough Residents Vote Down School Budget A Second Time
Unlike Brunswick, enough voters in Scarborough cared about their property taxes to say no, unlike the apathetic voters here in Brunswick. Although the overall voter turnout was as pathetically low as here, under 20%, about 80 voters tipped the scale in favor of defeat. Just think, only 200 or so voters, out of the 13,000 that stayed home during our referendum, could have saved us taxpayers over $40,000,000. Way to go Scarborough! At least one town apparently has enough citizens with some common sense who cared.
Click on the above image to see an article about the Scarborough vote.
July 9, 2017
Headline that appeared In July 7 local news publication…
Jordan Acres to be razed in Fall
The part that was missing and left out was…”while property taxes will be “r-a-i-s-e-d” and taxpayers bank accounts and savings will be “r-a-z-e-d” along with Jordan Acres.” That fact seemingly escaped over 13,000 voters in Brunswick who did not vote in the referendum and apparently are willing to live with 10-15 years of nearly double digit property tax increases starting a few years from now. One has to wonder what kind of mindset could possibly let this happen other than a complete and utter lack of common sense and reality.
It is a fact that the money borrowed to build the new school will add 4% to your tax bill every year for 10-15 years at least. It is a fact that the town has been averaging over 3% property tax increases every year just for the normal budgets. It is a fact that 4% + 3% equals 7%, a best case scenario. Once that truly sets in with most taxpayers and businesses starting in 2020, let us see what the mood will be in town.
Apparently the 13,000 “no-shows” in June’s referendum are getting big pay raises every year from now on. They’ll need it, as long as they can afford to live here, or until they decide to leave! One also has to wonder, with property tax history as a main piece of information on a home sale listing, who will want to buy a home here when they see property taxes increasing at a rate of 7% or more per year? I guess we will see the results of “apathy” then.
Oh, and apparently they are going to have a “send-off party to honor Jordan Acres, a school that was well-loved by former staff members of the community”, a quote in the article by a school board member. Ah yes, well-loved, poorly designed, repaired, and abandoned after the base closing then allowed to fall into disrepair…now to be razed in a special ceremony. They must be really good at this demolishing-razing-farewell party thing considering past habits and history with other school buildings. How fitting….and the taxpayers are probably going to be billed for the party also. And the beat and apathy goes on in “Beautiful and Well Balanced Brunswick”.
June 27, 2017 (updated)
80% (13,000) of the registered voters in Brunswick showed absolutely no interest in their financial future, by not showing up and voting on June 13th…..amazing, bewildering, and sad!
That type of apathy and indifference does not go unnoticed. Your town council and school board know they can count on that societal passivity in the decisions they make. So they will do whatever they want to knowing that, for the most part, either no one knows or no one cares in Brunswick. If that passes for a “Democracy”, then this town and our country are in serious trouble. There is no justification or excuse for giving up your right and responsibility to take part in the “gift” of democracy by not voting when given the opportunity.
Throughout the past months, in meeting after meeting and public hearing after public hearing, one of the slogans used by the referendum supporters was that Brunswick is an “education” town considering the presence of a college at our center. One has to wonder what an irony that is in light of the pathetic voter turnout. Do educated people consciously give up their democratic responsibilities? Does an educated citizenry allow a minority of others to make decisions for them?
There are 22 countries around the world that have compulsory voting where, if you fail to vote, you can be fined if you do not have a legitimate excuse. Perhaps we should become the 23rd.
June 15, 2017
JUST SOME IMAGES AND THOUGHTS
FOR ANY OF THE 13,000 REGISTERED VOTERS WHO DID NOT BOTHER TO VOTE THIS PAST TUESDAY ON $77,000,000 WORTH OF PROPERTY TAX ISSUES THAT WILL COME TO ROOST IN YOUR MAILBOX, IN A FEW YEARS FROM NOW……
AROUND THAT TIME, YOUR TAX BILL WILL INCREASE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 7 – 9% AND WILL LIKELY CONTINUE TO DO SO, EVERY YEAR, FOR AT LEAST 19 YEARS. SO REMEMBER……
AND YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSES!
WOULD ANY OF YOUR VOTES MATTERED…..JUST 262 (1.5%) WOULD HAVE SAVED TAXPAYERS OF THIS TOWN $40,000,000
June 14, 2017
We are not alone in our lack of voter involvement. It is widespread and a sign of the times. Many towns, including ours, had referendums yesterday and the results were a mirror image of the apathy shown here in Brunswick. As an example Portland, with a population of over 60,000, had a total of about 4000 votes for their school budget referendum. Other towns showed a similar lack of interest.
Click on the image below to see a list of results in other towns:
June 13, 2017
UNOFFICIAL REFERENDUM RESULTS OFF TOWN WEB SITE
As is usually the case, although the turnout was larger than average, almost 13,000 voters in Brunswick did not even bother to vote either because they were oblivious to what was happening in their town, or they just do not care. That is sad. As a result, when they see the real property tax effects of this vote, they will have no excuse to complain.
The only true mandate today was for continued apathy.
We were told that a school supporter was standing at the entrance to the parking lot at the junior high today, June 13th, with a “vote yes” sign, in clear violation of town rules. We decided to check it out, and there he was off the sidewalk, in full view, standing on school property. That is illegal!
How ironic it is, that someone who is supposed to be concerned about, and setting a good example for, our schoolchildren is showing them that cheating and breaking the law apparently is OK!
June 10, 2017
WAY OFF TARGET – ON PURPOSE
“The stark contrast between the continued cutting of the school budget while raising the municipal budget by $1,000,000, illustrates where the town’s priorities are….”
‘It is not about the overall tax rate being low, it is about the balance, priorities and focus of the budgets.”
The above comments were stated in the Tuesday June 6 front page article of a local news publication. They were attributed to a local former school board chairman. What one can take from these statements, and as portrayed by the rest of the article, is that he was unhappy with the cuts made to the school budget and the increase in the municipal budget. The cuts of $850,000, to the former, with an original request of around $38,000,000, were about 2%. The increase in the latter, an amount of about $1,000,000 to a $23,000,000 budget, is about 4%. The school budget is, and has been, almost twice the amount of the municipal budget, and almost 2/3 of the overall budget.
These adjustments to the proposed 2018 overall town budget don’t even come close to erasing the years of inequities caused by the over-funding of the education budget. Our infrastructure and town services will continue to decline to the detriment of all the the taxpayers.
Before continuing, click on the picture of the target on the above left. What it shows is a symptom of the “true unbalance” in the town budget, not the school board’s version. The town’s services and infrastructure have been underfunded and suffering for years because of the wasteful and unnecessary spending and lack of upkeep of school resources by the school board over decades, as well as now. The municipal side of the town has been subsidizing the education costs as the roads have been crumbling, the fire stations and equipment have been falling apart, and as the police department has become under-staffed and over-worked.
While 50% of the town budget continues to be allocated to teacher and administrator salaries as well as benefit and wage increases, the town’s infrastructure and services have taken a back seat. With 80% of the overall school budget going to salaries and benefits, little if any of the remaining dollars went to school maintenance, all the while the school department and town government were trading away or abandoning viable school buildings.
This is the reality in Brunswick, a reality the school board refuses to admit and continues to deny. The comments of our school board member missed the target again since he was aiming in the wrong direction, on purpose. This is why the status quo has to change with a “NO” vote on both the bond issue and budget this Tuesday, June 13th.
June 7, 2017
Just when you think you have seen and heard it all, the following headline appeared in a local news article yesterday:
“Opposition to school budget surfaces”
(from a former School Board chairman?)
Commentary to follow……..including thoughts on an oft used School Board “tactic”, right out of their school budget playbook. This common tactic is to do an “end around” to say they will now vote against it. That way, if it fails to pass, they can claim it was voted down because it was too low, not because the majority of the voters thought it was too high. It is an old trick meant to confuse, misdirect and “spin” the results. It is all about casting doubt.
In today’s Mid-Coast Forecaster, page 16, column 2, from the front page article “A Town Divided”, some of our Town Councillors are already playing off the above spin in case the budget is defeated. They were quoted as saying “if the school budget is defeated June 13, they won’t know if it will be a consequence of the rising conservative movement or the progressives who campaigned against a budget that is too low.” That is textbook posturing by casting doubt, and part of the game. You can be assured that at least some of our Town Council / School Board members will play that up if the budget is defeated, trying to misrepresent and deflate the true feeling of the majority of the residents.
And note the labels our town councillors apply to the citizens of this town, conservatives vs. progressives. First, that just flames the divisiveness by placing labels on people. Second, by definition, “conservatives” usually want things to stay the same and are against change while progressives want to shake things up. Therefore, those who advocate stopping the status quo of unaffordable and unbalanced spending, and ineffective and inept town government, are the true progressives. Our town council cannot even get their labels correct!
We are tired of all the irresponsible spending and out of balance budgets favoring the school board to the detriment of critical town services like roads, police, and fire. Take a look at page 2 of the same Mid-Coast Forecaster out today, the article on the fire truck. How about the deteriorating central fire station? How about the town routinely spending half of what they need each year to pave roads? Tough to do better when nearly 2/3 of the town budget goes to our school costs which is never enough for the school board. Should you still vote against the school budget? By all means! Just be aware of the games that will be played. It always happens this way. It is standard procedure. It is what they do.
Again, if you are tired of this endless change of direction, the mind and shell games they play, the spin and the endless maneuvering and scheming, just end it with a resounding “NO” on the bond issue and on the budget. It is also time to elect individuals who want to govern this town not manipulate it!! It is time for the citizens and voters to take charge. It is very clear our elected officials have no clue or concern about what the average citizen thinks. So let us enlighten them with the only power we do have…the referendum vote.
May 31, 2017
Apparently our School Board has been highlighting all the negative issues they can find with Coffin Elementary to support their contention that we need to demolish an existing school building that was abandoned 6 years ago , that is potentially usable, build a new school, then abandon the current Coffin school. Huh? At the same time, they seem to think that their issues are unique to the world around them. They are not!
Portland has 4 schools that are as old or older than Coffin, with issues that are equal or worse. Their solution? They are putting “2” questions to referendum for their voters, unlike our town, they get two options to vote on, not just one irrational “take it or leave it without state funding” proposal. !
Their first option is to spend 64 million dollars to repair all 4 schools. Yes, repair, not replace.
The second option is to spend 32 million to repair only 2 schools and actually apply for state funding to repair the other 2. Their application will not be terminated if they vote for the second option as with here in Brunswick.
Do you want to see their issues? We are hardly unique. They just try solving their problems in a rational way.
CLICK ON THE “CAN WE FIX IT” IMAGE, ABOVE LEFT, TO SEE THEIR ISSUES
Do you want to see an example of a town, not in Maine, that gets it! A town that has more financial resources than Brunswick, but one that manages their resources rationally. A town that this author grew up in and lived in for over 50 years. Well, click on the image below and see how it can be done.
Now, we are getting one unacceptable, untimely, and premature option to vote on, that we can in no way afford, and which completely ignores the state funding and review process. It is also a presumptuous and mistaken attempt to provide the voters with no alternatives which we can choose from.
This “force fed” approach will be detrimental to our town as a whole. The impact on the Municipal Budget is palpable, putting a limit on critical town services and infrastructure. There is only so much money and resources to go around, and so much spending we can afford!
It does not matter how many workshops and hearings the School Board and Town Council had on this issue. As with most other hearings, most of the town ignores them because they are either unaware they are happening, or they feel that our current Town Council could care less what they think. Bottom line, we deserve to have options to choose from in this referendum. If we were given 2 or 3, maybe one of the options would have been acceptable. In addition to choices, there is always the option of “none of the above”. There would have been a second choice, but the School Board coerced our “most willing” Town Council to remove it from the ballot. We are not being given any “choice”, which means that the one being forced upon us is insulting, irresponsible, and unacceptable! It is about being “railroaded” by our town government, plain and simple!
This is a deliberate “rush to judgment” that is unfair, irrational, and will lead to a fiscal “crisis” for all the taxpayers of Brunswick. It takes the “state funding” and review option right off the table. No matter how remote a possibility that is or isn’t, we deserve to get their input before we even think about taking on any debt, never mind $40,000,000 worth. Rather than learning from the past, we are repeating the same mistakes that got us to this point. The referendum offers no viable options and deserves a resounding “NO” vote.
May 21, 2017 (UPDATE)
THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND OVER A FISCAL CLIFF
According to an article the other day in a local publication, the School Board continues its efforts to rationalize their belief that the taxpayers of Brunswick should allow them, and our misguided town government, to take $40,000,000 of our income to trash one usable school building, abandoned 11 years ago, and build a new school building to replace one that has been neglected since 2011. If there is any rationality in any of that, we fail to see it.
So why is the current Coffin School in such need of repair? If so, why can’t it be repaired like the 4 schools in Portland that are going to a referendum for repair funds (some from state funding), not to be torn down and replaced. Many of their schools are as old as Coffin. Could one reason be that over the decades there has been very little money in the yearly school budget applied to upkeep and repairs? Could it be that the reason for that is due to the fact that 80% of the school budget goes to salaries and benefits for teachers and administration, leaving little left for more critical maintenance needs? This year alone, $30,000,000 out of a budget of $36,000,000 went right into salaries and benefits. None of those facts come up in the presentations being made to support the need to burden the citizens of Brunswick with 25 years of debt.
Here are a couple of “revealing” quotes…….
“Both schools were built in 1959. Coffin school has never had any major renovations in its nearly 60-year history, according to PDT.”
“When Lyndon Keck presented a $9 million plan for renovating Coffin Elementary and Brunswick Junior High schools, he painted a picture of two buildings with great need and a town with few resources.”
The above quotes came from a news story published back in 2015. The “PDT” stands for Portland Design Team which is referenced in the article. The news story discussed the need to “repair” both Coffin and the Junior High and the associated costs involved, which are a mere fraction of the $40,000,000 now being shoved down our throats. According to the article, the School Board was ready to repair both schools in 2015. They were told that there was a chance to get state funding in 10 years when apparently they thought both schools would have to be replaced. They admitted then that there was no way the citizens would approve building 2 new schools, yet they are planning to do just that now with Coffin and a new Junior High. The June 13th bond issue is being rushed through before allowing any chance for state funding. This whole fiasco is a recipe for financial disaster for the residents of this “failing” town with a legacy of mismanagement.
Our School Board continually uses the false and illogical argument that the more we spend on school buildings, after abandoning ones we just don’t like anymore, and the higher we raise our property taxes, the more attractive Brunswick becomes to home buyers. Really?! Maybe we ought to put that on the opening page of the town web site……“Brunswick, a beautiful town with bad roads, abandoned school buildings and wonderfully attractive, unaffordable, “skyrocketing” property taxes.” From our recent experiences talking with many citizens of this town, the exact opposite is true. A number of current residents, across the economic spectrum, indicated that they are in the process of leaving or seriously contemplating exiting Brunswick due to the high property taxes! Scores of individuals from our nearby towns have told us they are glad they do not live in Brunswick, because of the high taxes. The only upside to all of this…….lots of yard sales by people that are moving out, for those that are left behind.
Read the article! Look at the quotes! How did we get from then to now? Why aren’t we being given any other referendum options to fix our school dilemma? What happened to the second item that was supposed to appear on the referendum this June; the repair request for the Junior High? That has transformed into a soon-to-be request for a second new school for a town with “limited resources”. The answer to all this is very simple actually, the School Board / Town Council, one and the same, wants what it wants no matter how illogical, wasteful, and unaffordable it is, and they are counting on the uninformed citizens of Brunswick to let it happen. Their rationale? There is none! Your recourse….end the mismanagement by saying No on June 13th.
CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO SEE THE ARTICLE MENTIONED ABOVE
May 11, 2017
5.0_5.0_5.0_9.0_9.0 : Realistic
The above numbers are two possibilities, at best, that show what your property tax could go up each year for the next 5 fiscal years starting 2017-2018 through 2021-2022. If the bond issue and the school budget passes June 13th, these are likely the best case scenarios not including the property reevaluation effects and a host of other issues that might increase these numbers. As stated many times here on this web site, you can look to the School Board for the biggest part of these increases while the town struggles to perform its municipal functions and responsibilities. So, take your recent tax payment and do the math to decide if you will be able to afford to live in Brunswick 5 years from now.
You can stop this if you want to. Start voting, this June 13th, and simply say “NO” to both the school budget and the bond issue.
May 11, 2017
Another “Public Hearing” today, May 11. Well, let’s put it this way, another opportunity for the citizens to become frustrated at the lack of objectivity, leadership, and responsibility exhibited by our town council. Tune in or take a jaunt down to your town hall (the one that cost you 12 times the initial estimate in what was supposed to be an “equitable swap) and, by all means, watch your government in action, or more precisely “inaction”. It’s about the “Town Budget”. Yes, the $63,000,000 you are going to fund next year with nearly a 5% increase in your property taxes. Of that amount, 1.7% is due to the municipal cost increases for things like roads and emergency services, and 3% is for the School Board for things like teacher and administrative salaries and benefits which amounts to around 80% of their costs. They will spin it as being caused by a cut in state funding, which has happened, but that is about $1,000,000 compared to their $38,000,000 school budget which is 60% of the entire town budget.
If you choose to attend and take advantage of your 3 minute sound bite, by all means do so. It is part of your democratic right to have your voice either heard, or as is usually the case here in Brunswick, ignored. The School Board has spoken, and the Town Council shall therefore obey. The rubber “approved” stamps are inked and are at the ready, to be applied to the budget document. No one likes to make this process too perfunctory, so a “predetermined” open hearing is always a nice touch to try and make things more palatable to the unsuspecting public before they are forced to choke on their subsequent tax bills.
As you get served this tax main course, you can certainly look forward to the dessert they will try to offer up to you on June 13th, with a cherry on top. That will be the $28,000,000 souffle (bond issue) with a $12,000,000 custard sauce of interest that will raise your property tax tip by 4% starting in 2020 and every year thereafter for about 15 – 20 years. Oh, and let us not forget the property reevaluation salad that will provide the proper dietary roughage.
Does this all sound a bit distasteful? Do you want to put an end to this fiscal mismanagement, overspending, and irresponsible government. Well, you can and by all means, you should. On June 13th exercise the control you do have and vote “NO” to the bond issue and “NO” to the school budget. It is time to send a message and send this overcooked budget back to the kitchen!
Folks, if you want to continue to live in this town and you are fed up with what is going on then for crying out loud, do something about it! Open your eyes and ears and see and hear what is going on and tell your neighbors and friends and go to the polls on June 13th and take control of your town. Your only other choices are to be quiet or move. You decide in June.
May 6, 2017
Clearing Up A Few Issues
We received an email on our web site today from an individual accusing us of stating a couple of issues incorrectly in one of our handouts and distorting the facts.
The first was that Jordan Acres is one of our schools that has gone unused for a number of years. We were told in this email that JA was ultimately closed because it was unsafe, suggesting that any insinuation on our part that it was usable and safe was fallacious. Click on the arrow to the left on the bar below to play a statement by our School Superintendent earlier this year at a town meeting / open hearing still on the town web site. Perhaps the audio clip will clear up this issue in this person’s mind. It did for us:
Secondly, it is stated on our handout that one school, Hawthorne, was essentially given away. Apparently it was supposed to be an equitable swap or trade. Click on the picture below to read an article published at the time about this issue. The so-called “trade” was based on an an estimate of $100,000 to upgrade that town hall at the time. As the article below states, the cost ended up being 1.2 million dollars. You be the judge if this was a good trade or an unnecessary giveaway and preventable waste of taxpayer dollars that negatively impacted our town in a number of ways then, and to this day:
We contacted the sender of the email, with the above and other related information, after suggesting that they fully check their facts before implying we are not presenting information as accurately as possible. We have not had any response as expected. We also asked this person to contact us on any of the other (8) points mentioned on the back of our handout since it was suggested that maybe those issues and statements were fictitious also. Again, no response back, as expected. We also presented a number of examples of distortion of the facts from others that we have had to correct. As expected, no response back.
Most of the data we have on our web site is derived either from the Town of Brunswick web site, the state, or other sources and print media. We have a right to give our opinions based on our beliefs and the data we are presenting.
May 4, 2017
More Of The Same
“But again, school funding is under attack from Governor LePage who seems bent on dismantling public education”
“the real goal is to set expectations extremely low, instill fear and confusion and push towns and voters to cut local budgets in the name of protecting property taxes.”
“As school board members, we say stay calm and take the long view.”
“A highly respected school system supports economic growth for our town, attracts businesses to the Landing and new families to the community—keeping property values high and the real estate market strong.”
“It’s unfortunate but seems clear that the Governor is succeeding at causing panic at the local level.”
“It would be a mistake for Councilor Dan Harris or anyone else to buy into the Governor’s line of reasoning by recommending another $1,000,000 cut on top of those proposed at the state level. It is exactly the sort of trap the Governor would hope we would walk into.”
In response to the cuts made to their 2017-2018 School Budget, and the associated small cuts in some personnel……..”None of this—–we repeat, none of this—-is acceptable.”
All of the above quotes come from a recent “guest column” in a local publication apparently in response to one of our Town Council members daring to suggest further cuts to the proposed 2017-2018 school budget. The quotes were made by two of our School Board members.
Mr. Harris’s commentary, which prompted the above retort, focused on the upcoming June 13 bond issue related to a new Coffin Elementary School, and the proposed school budget.. Mr. Harris discussed the loan / bond issue on one of he referendum questions which is stated as $28,000,000. He is correct. Behind that amount, as we all know by now, and not included on the wording of the bond question, is another $12,000,000 in interest payments we will be on the hook for.
In addition, Mr. Harris pointed out, if the bond issue is approved the amount of borrowed money would, beginning about 3 years from now, add an additional 4 percent per year (for at least 15 years) to our property taxes. That of course will be on top of any year-by-year tax increases due to the normal combined town budget. The current proposed combined town budget for next year is expected to raise our property taxes by 3%. So let’s say that is also the combined budget increase for the year the bond debt kicks in. Property tax rates for that year alone would increase by 9%. The town would have you believe that the average yearly town budget increase will continue to be in the range of 3.5 to 4%. Well, so much for that average for next year!
None of this information was even mentioned in the article by the school board members. It is all about doom and gloom, panic, traps, and illogical assumptions about the effects of school spending on property values. Most individuals and businesses do not look to move to a town where the property taxes are going out of sight! To suggest that we keep spending more and more for a totally out of balance town budget that is weighed down by an archaic inequitable education funding model that causes unrealistic property tax hikes, and imply that it enhances property values, is absurd! Most people finance homes with mortgages. Mortgage payments include property taxes. The higher the property taxes the higher the mortgage payments, and apparently our school board members think that people will flock to Brunswick because they get the chance to have wonderfully high mortgage payments.
There was no mention in their commentary stating that education costs eat up almost 2/3 of the entire town budget. Not one word that 80% of that amount is for salaries and benefits. No mention that the percent of the mill rate you pay, for education costs, has gone up over 40% in the last 9 years while the percent for basic town services and costs has increased only 18%. Oh yes, and not one peep concerning the fact that adoption of the bond issue will terminate any chance we have for state funding. These are the same old worn out arguments, illogic and glossing over of the real world here in Brunswick. They suggest staying calm and take the long view. That “vista” over the horizon is even financially worse than the short term blurred fiscal picture they paint that completely ignores reality.
We are not hearing much about the Junior High lately. You know, the one that was also supposed to be on the June referendum to repair. That is on the list of schools to also be thrown aside so they can supposedly go after state funding for another new school. Another issue for the “rubber stampers” to give their approval to. It will never stop until the citizens bring this to a screeching halt!
Councilor Harris seems to realize that he represents the entire town of Brunswick. There are over 20,000 of us and only 2300 students and their parents. Most of the majority of us, and we are the majority, are willing to pay a reasonable amount of property taxes, based on intelligent sound fiscal planning, to support this entire town and its operation. Bottom line however, we are only willing to pay what we collectively can afford in an equitable way to both education and to run our government. Right now expenses are way out of balance to the detriment of town services, infrastructure, and public safety. We are reaching our limit on what we can afford in this global economy we now live in. This is not the post war boom of the 1950’s. Our school board apparently should go back and review a bit of economic history, and our Town Council should throw away the rubber “approved” stamps and start representing the entire populace of Brunswick and actually make rational decisions.
So what do you do with this dilemma? In the real world of today, in the private sector, you do more with less or think outside of the box and find new ways to be more cost effective. With all their focus on “education”, it is time for our school lobby to use some of that education and face the truth. You have to innovate like the rest of the real world. Ignoring the facts and taking the easy “taxation” route is no longer acceptable. Doom and gloom is no longer relevant. Either you change or sooner than later the taxpayers in town will wake up and modify your options. Hopefully sooner!
NEW BUDGET DATA – IMPACT OF RISING TOWN EDUCATION COSTS ON YOUR MILL RATE
The above chart was just taken from the proposed 2017-2018 town budget. We had the same chart for the current year’s budget on this web site earlier. The bar graphs show, for each year since 2008, the three component factors that make up the mill rate which determines your property taxes. The three components are the School (Education Costs) in orange, the Municipal Budget Costs in blue, and the County costs in green. For each column they add up to the Total Mill Rate in white. The Mill Rate is the amount you pay, in dollars, for every $1000 of “Taxable Evaluation” on your home (stated on your Propertry Tax Bill), which is calculated by taking 70% of the market value of your home.
In 2008-2009 the total mill rate was $22.54. Of that amount, $12.20 was for the School Budget, $9.48 for the Municipal Budget, and $.86 for County costs. That $12.20 for the School Budget in 2008-2009 has now jumped to $18.22, an increase of 49%. On the other hand, the 2008-2009 $9.48 Municipal Budget cost is now going to $11.50, an increase of only 18%. So who is getting short changed? And who keeps asking for more and more of your tax dollars? Seems pretty obvious! This is an unsustainable trend which will only get worse if the Coffin School bond issue is approved. The orange part of the bar graph will become bigger and bigger as the Municipal part shrinks. Remember, the bond will add another 4% tax increase starting in the year 2020, above the normal budget increases which in 2017-2018 is already up to another 3%. Who knows what that will be in 2020. Our guess, at least a combined increase of 8% or more.
The causes of the education spending are what they are. Salary and benefit increases count for most. Reduction in state assistance to towns is yet another. The costs are the costs and we can no longer structure our education system and fund it the same way now or in the future. The system is broken, the methods are outdated, and the taxpayers are spent. They won’t change their way voluntarily so it is time for the taxpayers to force our school board, their lobby, and our town government to find other solutions which fit with our current economy. It is time to say “no more” with 2 “No’s” in June.
Note: See the 2017-2018 proposed town combined budget by clicking on the image in the right sidebar of this web page.
May 2, 2017
The Full Court Press Is Starting
As you would expect, the School Board is beginning their media blitz and the “pro-school” yard signs are starting to sprout. You can expect this to continue from now to June 13th. This is how the School Lobby operates and has done so year after year. That is why almost 2/3 of your tax money goes to education spending (or more accurately educator salary and benefit spending). That is why there is so little money left for the municipal budget to run this “Beautifully Balanced” gateway to the Mid-Coast, as the town web site suggests. You know, the same town you go through down Maine Street, bouncing around in your car over the ruts, bumps, potholes, and re-patched roads. The same town where you have to slow down to 2 miles an hour on the Cressey Road route 1 highway entrance to keep from beating your car’s suspension to pieces. The same town where you have to meander and swerve your car around all the patches, or lack thereof, heading out from Maine Street, down Pleasant Hill Road towards Freeport. Yeah, should I continue or have I made my point.
These and a multitude of other issues are things you don’t hear from the School Board and its supporters. They don’t, and won’t, talk about the impending property tax “crush” that is about to befall the residents of this town if the voters don’t finally wake up and finally say “No”, and take control of the government in a town where there is currently no viable governing body. Just attend or watch some of the meetings on the town web site and view your government in action. You will be shocked over what you see. Remember, these are the people that are deciding how to spend your money, all $63,000,000 of it. How could anyone not care what they are doing? How could anyone not get involved?
Everyone better start caring….and now! Write in June 13, 2017 on your calendar as the “NO Vote Day”. The day you start to take control of your local government and your pocketbook. Oh, and yes, tell everyone you know about what is happening because they probably don’t know. And tell them to tell everyone they know.
May 1, 2017
New Budget Woes vs. Impending Bond Issue Irrationality….A Tsunami And A Perfect Storm Of Taxation All In One
The Town Council held a School Budget hearing this past Thursday, April 27th. If you weren’t there you were not alone. One or two people, other than School Board members and some of the Town Council (not all) were present. The recorded event is on the TV3 listing off the front page of the town web site.
It is difficult to summarize the event, after watching the recording, in a way that would give justice to what appeared to have taken place. As the image to the left suggests, “mass confusion” seems appropriate. Many of the Town Council members seemed confused and, at times, one of the main School Board presenters seemed bewildered and perplexed with the information she was trying to convey. A really telling comment came from one of the Town Councillors who stated that “this budget (summary) is the only budget she really ever read.” With that statement and the palpable confusion over much of the data presented, and a Town Council that just “rubber stamps” anything given to them by the School Board, no wonder this town is headed for a “tax tsunami”.
The presentation document, the School Budget, was scaled down supposedly to make the numbers look prettier (graphs included) and easier to assimilate. For the most part, that effort seemed mostly designed to play up the idea that the increase they are asking for is irrelevant and that they will have to struggle to get by on 2/3 of the entire town budget. The budget data was played up as “maintenance” numbers just to allow them to “scrape by” for another year. If you want to see a true “maintenance budget”, look at the 2017 Social Security increase. As always, they completely glossed over the fact that 80% of the budget goes to salaries and benefits increases which are surely not at “maintenance levels”. It all appears to be part of an effort to hide the real relevant facts related to education spending and the negative impact it is having on the overall town and it’s citizenry.
Oh yes, the “Tax Tsunami”. That was the title of a recent commentary by one of our own Town Council members, in a local publication, who has come to the realization, like much of what we have been saying on this web site for the past few months, that numerous factors are coming together all at once, and into the future, that will hit every taxpayer in Brunswick with property tax increases at levels unimaginable to the average person. The reasons are spelled out all over this web site, none of which is more damaging than the proposed Coffin School bond issue in the June 13th referendum. That is the one we have been telling everyone to get out and defeat by saying “no” to the bond issue, as well as the proposed 2017 – 2018 school budget.
The overall budget, municipal and school, for 2018 is currently projected to be $63,000,000. That alone will result in a 5% increase in our property taxes.. The school budget is going to increase to about $38,000,000. That leaves $24,000,000 to run the town. When asked by a town councillor what increases teachers and administrators are getting, the answer from the School Board member was that she had the numbers, not at the meeting, but would give them to the town councillors later. So much for the public forum process! Bottom line, the education budget is and will be totally out of line with the overall budget. It is and will continue to be almost 2/3 of the overall town budget when it should be no more than 50%. A cut of some $800,000 or so in their original 2018 numbers is nothing more than a token gesture. That isn’t even close to the amount they should be cutting out of their costs. On top of all that, they are looking to take out that $40,000,000 loan for a new school. The ballot question will state it as a $28,000,000 bond request. The $12,000,000 in interest we will pay on that debt will not show up on the question.
Have you had enough everyone??? The “Tax Tsunami” is coming or as we have said months ago (see one of the slides above), the “Perfect Storm of Tax Increases.” You have been warned and enlightened and you can make it stop before it washes over all of us. A simple “no” vote on the bond issue and the budget will slow that wave down. Tell everyone you know because chances are, they do not know. Put an end to this mismanagement in government here in Brunswick.
March 30, 2017
There was an extensive story on one of the major local television stations yesterday concerning the difficulty a number of towns are having recruiting new police officers. In most of those towns, there is a critical shortage of officers resulting in a heavy work load for those currently on the force. One of the towns highlighted, and interviewed, was Brunswick which currently has a number of unfilled positions. Not suprisingly, one of the reasons given for the inability to attract new candidates was low starting pay.
One of the slides on the top of this web page, the 1st one (click on the slide), shows a pie chart, off the town web site, giving a breakdown of the current town budget. As noted on the slide, 61% of that pie chart goes towards education spending (80% of that total is for teacher and administrative salaries and benefits). The amount on the pie chart that goes to all of Public Safety is 14%.
Our School Board is looking for an even bigger part of that pie with a $40,000,000 school we do not need and is asking us to pay 100% without even waiting to see if we qualify for state funding. There is only so much money to go around. It is obvious that our police, fire, and medical services are getting short changed.
My guess is that the majority of the citizens of Brunswick see our emergency services just as important to this town as having two abandoned unused elementary schools, one that was given away, and a new one we are being asked to pay for out of our own pockets. We have 4 unfilled police positions, a crumbling fire station, awful roads and a town landfill we have to close. The $12,000,000 in interest alone that we would have to pay on an unnecessary school bond, that could be paid by the state, would be appreciated by our police and fire departments! Think about that as the School Board pushes for this bond issue between now and June.
As voters, you can correct that inequity. Vote “no” on June 13th for both the school bond issue and the school budget. Our town government continually drops the ball. It is time for the citizens to pick it up and make the intelligent decisions for ourselves.
March 23, 2017
It is a sad state of affairs when, after being given a gift of Democracy from the State of Maine, the majority of Brunswick citizens ignore it in favor of apathy and disinterest. Yes, an actual gift! It is Title 20-A, 1486 of the state statutes which requires towns to put school budgets to a referendum. You aren’t given that opportunity in Brunswick for the Municipal budget, only the School budget. On a yearly basis, it is your only opportunity to make the town listen to you.
Click on the “Gift Horse Image” , above left, to see the Maine statute.
Comparison of School Administrative District’s (SAD 75) Mt. Ararat High School Referendum, Approved On March 7, 2017, To The Pending Brunswick Elementary School Referendum On June 13, 2017
Mt. Ararat is costing $60,000,000. Brunswick Elementary will be costing taxpayers $28,000,000. The yearly tax increase per household on an average home in Topsham, valued at about $200,000 = $37. The yearly tax increase per household on a home in Brunswick with approximately the same value would = $280 or 8X the increase in Topsham, for a school costing half as much.
Why the difference? Simple, SAD 75 applied to the State of Maine for state funding. The current Mt. Ararat was inspected and reviewed by the state and given a grade. It was put on a list, after the district voted on (3) various design proposals. State funding was approved for all but $6.2 million in locally funded items.
And here is another simple fact. If the Brunswick Elementary School bond is approved in June, the application that our School Board says they are submitting next month for state funding, for the elementary school, will be terminated by the state and we will pay the entire $28,000,000. The condition of Coffin will never be reviewed or inspected by the state. Oh, and yes, we will also pay $12,000,000 in interest on top of that, for the loan.
So, Brunswick taxpayers, do you have a lot of money to burn? What is your choice going to be?
JUNE 13, 2017 REFERENDUM QUESTIONS
Below is the current wording of the two referendum items to be voted on June 13, 2017. The information was provided by the Town Clerk’s office. An approval for either item would require a “Yes” to be checked and a non-approval would require a “No” to be checked:
Referendum item 1 (School Bond Issue):
Shall “An ordinance Authorizing the Planning, Design and Construction of a New Elementary School on the Site of the Former Jordan Acres School, with Total Project Costs Not to Exceed Twenty-eight Million Dollars, ($28,000,000) Plus Other Authorized Costs, And Further Authorizing Issuance of Bonds and Notes in an Amount Not to Exceed Twenty-eight Million Dollars ($28,000,000) Plus Other Authorized Costs” therefore be approved and enacted?
Referendum item 2 (School Budget adoption):
Do you favor approving the Town of Brunswick school budget for the upcoming school year that was adopted at the Brunswick Town Council meeting held May 25, 2017?
Note: The May 25th adoption date of the School Budget by the Town Council in the second referendum item, is tentative.
Click on the image below to see the Ballot Documents:
COMMENTARY: IMPORTANT FACTS AND THOUGHTS ON OPEN HEARING FEBRUARY 25, 2017
So let’s start right up front with the conclusion of what took place Tuesday evening. Other than a few telling comments from various individuals, which will be discussed below, nothing took place which was going to affect the outcome, already decided back in early February in a School Board meeting. That decision, pre-designed with anticipated Town Council approval, was to radically change and gut a 2016 decision to build a new elementary school and repair the junior high. This February 26th open hearing was a formality to follow proper bonding procedures. Placing $28,000,000 of debt on the taxpayers without waiting for the results of the application and review, by the state BOE, for state funding for the elementary school, was just part of the overall plan. It was perpetrated by our town government, to make a new junior high the focus, taking the spotlight off the original plan. So there you are. Welcome to Democracy in Brunswick, Maine.
By the way, this meeting was not in front of a full audience and there were only 13 citizens, out of 20,000 or so, that spoke. I would say that reflected the enormity of the event and the anticipated effect that speaking out was going to have on changing the minds of the Town Council.
The supporters cited the usual fuzzy logic. Much of that focused on the idea that everyone moves to Brunswick only because of the schools. It is a half-truth that good schools attract home buyers. Of course this omits the fact that school spending leads to higher taxes which drives away a significant part of the potential home buying population as well as any business that may want to settle here. Taxes for prospective businesses are like garlic to a vampire, it drives them away unless of course they get Tiff’s or tax credits, which is another burden thrust on the rest of the taxpayers.
Yet another tired argument is that fancy expensive schools raise property values. Many factors raise property values including the cyclical nature of the housing and borrowing market in general. Higher property taxes add to higher mortgage payments, which turns off home buyers. The quality of town services, roads, low crime rates, and the ability of the town and homeowners to keep up their own property also keeps up surrounding property values. If you have no money left, after paying taxes, you can’t afford to keep up your homes and buildings. Additionally, you only realize a home’s value when you borrow against it (take on more debt) or when you sell it (because you can no longer afford to pay the taxes).
And last, but not least, a couple of parents offered to take up a collection to help us poor fixed-income retirees pay our increased taxes. How thoughtful. Since we will be stuck with a 20 or 30 year loan for just one school, they apparently have also looked at the odds of how long they would have to fork over any of their “elderly assistance” for those of us in our 60’s or older. What a way to insult our intelligence and all we have worked for! Yes, and they made these absurd offers with a straight face.
For the equal-in-number opponents, the rationale remained the same. The issue of overcrowding could be corrected by using the schools we already have in Jordan Acres and Hawthorne. The results of past mistakes and wasted money, buildings and bad government are now being dumped in our laps. One retired Town Councilman, married to a former teacher, reiterated the most important issue of the evening, which will be discussed in another commentary here. The issue is that there is no rational fair reason not to wait one more year for an independent state review, and rating, of the Coffin School building so we taxpayers have all the facts, not just the biased opinions of the School Board and their paid consultants. Only then can we make an educated decision in any referendum.
Lastly, the closing decision of the Town Council, which was a predetermined formality to send the bond issue to a premature referendum, was preceded by some telling comments of their own. One of those comments, by the superintendent, concerned the fact that the junior high is currently under-capacity and is expected to remain that way for a number of years. So, why do we need a new one? Another mystery. Just more proof that the sudden attempt to stop the repair request for the junior high is just a smoke screen, bait and switch attempt by the School Board to take attention away from the Coffin bond issue and to take the state BOE review and funding request off the table. They are apparently afraid of what the state review will show.
A comment by our finance director concerned the issue of a 10-year bond for repairing both schools costing slightly more per taxpayer, per year, than a 20 or 30-year loan for a new school. Kind of like a 3 year car loan vs. a 10 year car loan. The 10-year car loan (or 30-year bond loan) makes your payments go down and you think you are better off, but the car (or un-maintained school) is a rust bucket by the time you pay it off, and the higher amount of total interest you paid could have gone towards some other need. Repairs cost far less and do not necessarily affect chances for state funding if the school is still rated as being substantially deficient, overcrowded, and outdated. The lower the rating, the higher the request for funds gets to be on the list. We will never know that if this bond is approved in the June referendum.
One town council person, referencing the age and quality of Coffin and the junior high, stated “it is not like we have 2 beautiful brick buildings that have stood the test of time”, to use as schools. Well, she is wrong. We have the beautiful Hawthorne School building and had the beautiful Longfellow elementary school which was traded to Bowdoin. Oops! Another TC person stated, “You can’t punish people (town councils and school boards) for mistakes made 10-15 years ago.” So based on her logic, it is time to punish the taxpayers of today instead, by saddling them with a $28,000,000 bill before they get all the facts. Ok…..that apparently makes sense…..to them, not us.
A few other comments by our town leaders topped off the evening. One pertained to the fact that the last time we self-funded a school was back in the early 1900’s. Apparently that was the previous high school. So now the School Board wants to reverse that non-self funding trend and set a new precedent by going back to the good old days and have the taxpayers pay for something the state government could assist with?
Another Town Council member stated that “there will be trade-off’s” in other areas of the town budget if this bond is accepted. By that she meant, unless we raise taxes even higher (which is a very likely scenario), the municipal side of the budget might have to be cut. You know, things like town services, road repairs, building maintenance and other unnecessary things. Or, it is more likely that if the municipal budget has to increase for services, structures, or repairs you will be given a choice, forget those needs or increase your taxes even more, on top of the bond payments which you will be stuck with for 20-30 years That is how they fiscally manipulate you.
And last, but certainly not least, we had one town council member close out the discussion with a verbal plea to the true governing body of Brunswick, the School Board. She implored the SB “to be kind” to her and fellow fixed income citizens as they develop the new yearly school budget. That would be the regular budget (not the new school bond issue), which will likely be over $38,000,000. As usual, 80% of that school budget goes to raises and benefit increases for teachers, school administrators, and other staff. As they get richer and possibly get a new school, we get poorer and get higher taxes. What a deal!
A VOTE OF “YES” ON THE SCHOOL BOND TERMINATES THE APPLICATION FOR STATE FUNDING AND WE PAY THE ENTIRE $40,000,000 BOND / LOAN
February 16, 2017 (Update)
Click on the “Over Spending” image to the left. You will see a two part slide, the top chart from the town Finance Department showing the projected effect of the original bond proposal, which covered a new elementary school and repairs to the junior high school. The yearly cost, for each taxpayer, would have been $160 or an additional 5% increase over the projected annual budget increase of 3%, totaling 8%, starting FYR 2020. That 8% increase would continue each year and slowly decrease to 7% into the 19th year.
Click on same “Over Spending” image above. The bottom charts, when clicking on the Over Spending image, show the possible revised bond proposal which change the numbers slightly with a $130 per year bond debt per household for every $100,000 of a home evaluation (on your tax bill). If your house is valued at $200,000, the yearly cost would be $260. The chart also assumes an average yearly town budget increase (not including the bond debt) of 3.5%. The bond debt in this scenario would add an additional 4% per year to your taxes gradually falling to 2% in the first 19 years. As stated, if the School Board / Town Council manages to push a new junior high on us in a year or so, we would have overlapping bond debt of at least twice those numbers going forward.
You have ONE way you can put a stop to the Brunswick town government over-spending your money, and that is a “NO” vote on the school budgets and a “NO” vote for a new unaffordable school. Make the “spenders” figure out how to live within OUR means. If you think there is nothing you can do, you are absolutely wrong! You just out-vote the vocal minority. There is NO excuse not to vote when you get the chance!
“Opedonbrunswick” is about OPinion, EDucation, information and involvement. As nonpartisan taxpayers and voters, it is our responsibility to remain engaged as managers of our elected officials…they work for us! You can’t manage if you are not aware of what is going on and you are not actively involved. Our expectation, in the end, is that our town is run intelligently, efficiently, fairly, objectively, and most of all, affordably. Economic and social diversity is crucial for success as a thriving community. That can only be achieved through fiscal responsibility; only spending what we can collectively afford.
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