For the ‘ever practical New Englanders’ of Heath

Published: 5/6/2019 10:49:57 AM

Recent articles and editorials in The Recorder have all focused on the advantages to Heath of selling its school property to Carnegie Arch, LLC. Its coverage, however, failed to present the full picture.

At the special town meeting in March, many voted against the proposition on the grounds that not enough information had been given on the costs and benefits that would be incurred either way. We therefore address some of those concerns. We have intentionally avoided using specific numbers because they are constantly evolving.

Contrary to what has been asserted, few in Heath object to the production or sale of marijuana. Many people question the wisdom of selling the school property, not because the current bid is for a marijuana-related business, but because the proposal means selling the town’s most valuable asset for much less than it’s worth.

The school offers the most viable and least expensive option to solve many of the town’s needs. Buildings currently being used for town functions are old and inadequate to serve us in the 21st century. The future costs to upgrade and/or replace these buildings are high. The school is already ours and the loan we took out to build it is paid off.

Here are some of the needs the school property can meet:

— It is a modern one-story building with easy access that meets all current codes, and offers sufficient space for all town functions and municipal needs.

— It saves at least $2,000,000 in potential costs of creating space for the fire and police departments.

— It allows us to install a solar array that will cover the building’s electrical needs. It also leaves room for further development of a larger system to produce income in the future.

— It offers town residents of all ages numerous recreational, social, and cultural opportunities.

As promoted, selling to Carnegie Arch sounds good. But as we explored in more detail the costs and benefits of this proposal, we found discrepancies with respect to revenue, costs incurred by selling, and the impact on our town tax rate.

Here are some of the factors that affect the financial impact on the town:

— We are selling the school for $250,000. It cost $3,200,000 to build and equip it. We already own it. In selling the school, we are trading off a viable option for town improvements, leaving the town to find other resources for meeting its needs.

— Income from Carnegie Arch should mitigate a rise in taxes. The exact income is unpredictable.

— Income does not start flowing for at least one-to-two years, and the Host Agreement contract will be good for five. Then it must be renegotiated.

— By Massachusetts law, income from the host community impact fee may be applied only to costs imposed on the municipality by marijuana operations and cannot be relied upon as revenue for unrelated expenses like broadband.

— Taxpayers will be responsible for the costs of all future municipal needs that would have been addressed by owning the school property.

Heath’s problem in addressing our needs is that we have a very high tax rate and low population dependent solely on property tax. We need to consider what would more likely attract people and companies considering a move to Heath: a beautiful municipal and recreational building with a library and gathering spaces, a gym, a playground, a senior center, in addition to a gorgeous landscape and historical center; or a town with inadequate facilities in aging historic buildings, a dilapidated town garage, no safety complex, no town meeting space, no playgrounds, no recreational facilities, and a commercial marijuana facility dictating its finances.

So, for the “ever practical New Englanders” of Heath, we are doing exactly what we should. We are not accepting the information we have been given at face value. We are researching the validity of the data we have in order to make a well informed decision that will serve the best interests of our town, now and well into the future.

Authors of this My Turn are Heath residents: Tom Carlson, Margaret Freeman, Sue Lively, Pam Porter, Larry Sampson, Steve Thane and Alice Wozniak.

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