By Michael Herbert, Town Manager
As you know, a critical project for Ashland is a new public safety building. Last year I thought that Ashland taxpayers were going to be responsible for paying the full price-tag of a new joint public safety building. At $30 million, that would have paid for the land acquisition for the building, design and engineering, and construction costs. As important as the project is for Ashland, it would also have translated to an additional $300 tax increase each year for the average Ashland taxpayer.
In the course of the last year, the situation has changed dramatically. We have been able to negotiate the donation, not purchase, of identified land, and Senator Spilka has been able to secure the construction costs through a statewide bond bill. All that is left to fund by Ashland taxpayers is the design and engineering, or $3.5 million. Almost a tenth of what was originally proposed.
You will hear me say that translates to a cost to the average taxpayer of only $30 a year. Quite an achievement when looking at $300 year. But it is still a tax increase. One resident recently asked how that factors into some of the recent debt exclusions we have passed when looking at the impact to Ashland taxpayers.
Ashland has passed several tax increases (called debt exclusions) for specific projects in the last fifteen years, and earlier this year we passed two more: $1 million for the Mindess School Feasibility Study, and $3.5 million for the Valentine property. Because we will get reimbursed for half of the Mindess School study, and because we offset some of the costs of the Valentine property with CPA funds, the amount we will need to borrow are $500k and $2.7 million respectively.
Here is a chart that shows what all of our debt exclusions cost the town each year, when they are paid off, and also what the tax impact is on the average valued home in Ashland.
Aslo, utilizing some basic assumptions, I have added the Valentine, Mindess, and Public Safety engineering debt exclusions. As you can see, once all of the projects are on the tax bills the average taxpayer will be paying $330 annually. These three additional projects will at most cost the average taxpayer $39 year.
More importantly I want to bring your attention to four years later in FY24. That is when we will have paid off the High School project. This will result in a $1.1 million decrease in debt service, and the cost to the average taxpayer for debt exclusions on the books will then only be $130. It gets even better the following year, when the Community Center and Town Hall are paid off. It will then get down to $96 year. In five years, taxpayers will be paying almost $200 less for debt exclusions than they are currently, including the recently passed Valentine Estate, Mindess Study, and even Public Safety Engineering projects.
As has been discussed, a new school is very much on the horizon as well. But looking at the steep drop off in excluded debt, hopefully we can manage this without an increase in tax bills.
Another part of the analysis that is not demonstrated here is what we save by going to a new public safety building. Between the saving in lease payments for the Police Administrative building and the savings in utilities by combing 4 buildings into 1, we will save $1.2 million over 20 years (about $60k year). This does not include savings we would realize by being able to do training “in house” as opposed to paying another community, or the revenue we could realize by hosting trainings.
Finally, this doesn’t take into account what it means to not build a new joint public safety building. The impact to the safety of our Police and Fire personnel, as well as the safety to the community in general cannot be measured. We’ve done our best to limit as much of the cost to Ashland taxpayers as possible. And hopefully, our previous planning efforts will make these investments more affordable and therefore more palatable to home and business owners in Ashland.
What do you think? Let me know your thoughts or questions on our Facebook pages or comment on the blog itself. You can also let me know directly at [email protected]