What’s in a number? Zip code confusion affects Buckland school spending

Recorder Staff
Last modified: 2/16/2016 9:11:05 PM
BUCKLAND — For years, the question of “which part of Shelburne Falls is in Buckland, which part is in Shelburne” has confused tourists, new residents and the state Registry of Motor Vehicles. Now it may have also skewed another part of Buckland’s financial picture: state calculations used for Buckland school assessments.

The Buckland Board of Selectmen and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are looking at whether the state has miscalculated Buckland’s average income-per-person and its “aggregate wealth” — figures used in determining the town’s Chapter 70 state education aid and its net school spending requirement — based on a very small slice of the town population: those 278 residents who have a “Buckland” ZIP code of 01338.

Buckland’s roughly 1,900 residents are actually served by four post offices, each with its own ZIP code: Shelburne Falls (01370), Buckland (01338), Charlemont (01339) and Ashfield (01330). Most of Buckland’s households have the Shelburne Falls ZIP code, and they have smaller homes and incomes than those living in the affluent, upper Buckland and using the 01338 ZIP code.

How much money towns are required to spend on education is determined by equalized property values, which the state gets from the Buckland Assessors office, and by the aggregate income of residents, which the state is now getting from only one ZIP code.

After attending a recent talk on school financing, Town Administrator Andrea Llamas wrote to DESE School Finance Administrator Roger Hatch, saying it appeared that possibly only the per-capita income for residents of the 01338 area was being used, then extrapolated, to calculate school finance information for the entire town.

“If that is the case, then it raises serious concerns for Buckland’s minimum contribution calculation, because the majority of households are in the 01370 (Shelburne Falls) area, an area that is more typical of the moderate family residences and incomes of Buckland than the larger and wealthier homes typical of the upper Buckland 01338 area,” Llamas wrote.

Hatch wrote back, saying the state Department of Revenue provided 2012 income data for Buckland that was used to calculate the town’s Chapter 70. He said the figures show that Buckland had 143 tax filers with 278 persons filed for, with income totalling $7,478,000. “The disparity between the Census (of 1,902 residents) and DOR number of persons is dramatically different from the pattern seen in the rest of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns,” he wrote.

“The solution was to take Buckland’s average income per person as computed by DOR, which was $19,577, and apply it to the census estimate of 1,902 persons, yielding aggregate income of $37,235,454. This approach has been applied to Buckland’s numbers each year since FY07,” Hatch continued.

In contrast to the calculated $19,577 median income for Buckland, the state DOR has calculated Shelburne’s per-capita income to be $18,050.

“Apparently, the data is not organized in a way that would allow income to be isolated just for the Buckland residents of the 01370 ZIP code,” Hatch wrote. “Yet I do trust that you know your town and that your perception must be taken seriously.”

Buckland selectmen discussed the issue this week, and wondered if the Buckland residents living in smaller homes in Shelburne Falls had artificially lowered Shelburne’s per-capita income.

“Our median income is about $1,500 high than Shelburne’s, because they only used the Buckland ZIP code,” Llamas told the board. She pointed out that most of the residents living in the Clesson Brook section of town get their mail from Charlemont and accurate financial input from them was not factored into the calculation.

Hatch asked if the town has the ability to identify how many Buckland residents use the Shelburne Falls ZIP code. “If so,” he wrote, “that would allow us to weight the different per-capita incomes in proportion to number of residents.” He said he would welcome ideas on how the current estimation method might be improved.

Selectmen and Llamas discussed using the town’s street list as a way to compile the number of residents within the 01370 Shelburne Falls code. Selectman Dena Willmore said town officials are looking for a simple way to ensure the state is using the most accurate numbers in the future.

Town Clerk Janice Purington has been sounding the alarm on the ZIP code confusion for at least 25 years.

“It’s a nightmare,” she said. “Almost every day, something comes up about it.”

On the last day to register to vote in time for the presidential primary, she said, she has to correct new voters who give their addresses as “Shelburne Falls” and not as “Buckland.” Years ago, Purington tried to persuade the Postal Service to redistrict Buckland’s residents to a single post office and ZIP code, so that all Buckland residents would use the 01338.

Assessor Pamela Guyette pointed out that at least $22,000 worth of Buckland excise bills from the state this year were sent to Shelburne instead of Buckland, and that both towns’ assessors have to work together to sort out which bills belong in which town.

“A lot of (Buckland birth certificates) end up in Shelburne,” she remarked. “It’s an extra layer of work for everyone over here.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbroncaccio@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277


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