Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mercier staying out of the limelight

During Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, Dr. Stacy Scott and four of the five School Committee members appeared to advocate for the new Dracut High School project. The fifth member, Ron Mercier, was not with his colleagues. I said on Tuesday that he was either absent or off camera. According to the Column today, Mercier was there but elected to stay away from the cameras.

The Sun reported that he sat in the back at first but then moved to sit with Andy Graham up front and joked with Selectman Bob Cox "about his face not needing to be on camera." The Sun also reported that Mercier's case for allegedly stealing gas from the City of Lowell is still on going with a hearing on April 28 to "determine if all the documents have been received to proceed with a trial."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dracutonian idea

Jim Campanini has come up with a new word:

Dracutonian Adjective

1. A fiscally conservative and creative way to handle town finances

He speaks of Selectman Joe DiRocco's proposal at Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting to suspend the CPA tax as a way to "soften the blow" of the tax increase that will come with the renovation of the high school (assuming it passes Town Meeting and a vote on May 2).

Warren Shaw also floated this idea on his radio show a few weeks back.

See the full editorial here.

Election update

Today's Lowell Sun has an election update. It seems that Fire Chief Leo Gaudette has taken out papers to run for Town Moderator. I am concerned with town officials also holding elective office. I hope Gaudette decides against running - it's a matter of principle. A town employee should not have the authority of an elected position, especially one that impacts the funding of the employee's department. If elected, Gaudette will run the meetings that determine budget matters for his department. It doesn't seem fair.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ax the CPA?

Today's Lowell Sun (as well as Dracut Forum) has a good rundown of last night's Board of Selectmen meeting and their discussion about eliminating the CPA tax in order to make the Prop 2 1/2 vote on a new high school more palatable.

See the story here but below is a taste:

Some town officials may be looking to make a deal in an effort to renovate the high school.

Selectman Joseph DiRocco wants to ax the Community Preservation Act tax as a tradeoff for the approval of the $60 million renovation project. Dracut has approved the Community Preservation Act, which adds a 2 percent tax to homeowners' annual tax bill. Those funds can be used for town projects such as open-space preservation and affordable housing.

"In my mind, it might be a better way to sell the project," said DiRocco.

The high-school renovation project is a contentious issue in town.

Proponents argue it makes fiscal sense to use state money to renovate the high school for about $23 million because it will cost about $29 million for minimum upkeep and repairs to the high school over the next 25 years. The new school would increase property values and attract prospective buyers to the community.

Opponents say homeowners can't afford another tax burden to fund the project, especially during tough economic times.

Town officials estimate an additional annual tax of $219 for homeowners with property worth $300,000 during the highest year of the 25-year loan. The tax for property owners peaks at that rate on the third year and continues to decrease to $114 for $300,000 homes in the 25th year, according to figures provided by Town Treasurer Ann Vandal.

DiRocco wanted the board to send the proposal to eliminate the community-preservation tax to Town Meeting until Selectman John Zimini reminded him that a vote on the matter would violate the state's Open Meeting Law because it wasn't on the meeting agenda. Selectmen Chairman George Malliaros said the board would discuss eliminating the act's surcharge at the board's March 22 meeting.

Selectmen Cathy Richardson and Zimini voiced concern over eliminating the community preservation tax, citing the benefits the town has reaped from use of the money.

Library vision

I have been tough on the library for its reduction in hours lately but I found some comfort in an interview new library director Randy Robertshaw had with the Valley Dispatch. In response to a question about his vision for the library, he said:

I don't want to come in with my own expectations. I'd rather let the community speak of their expectations. You can bring in your own preconceived notions or you can listen to the public. I choose to listen. I will recommend to have more hours open in the evening during the summer, but these are uncertain times, especially with the snow budget impacting fiscal '11 and '12. We are undergoing a major reformatting of the fiction and nonfiction books, and we're working on a new website that will be easier to update for the staff and more simple for people to use. We're working on adjusting shelving and adding more signage so it's easier to find what you're looking for. It will take some time, but I do like to see things get done, not just talk about it.

Sounds good to me. Again, although I have been critical at times, the library is one of my favorite places in town and I am there all the time. I guess when you like something so much, you hate to see it underutilized.

See the whole Robertshaw interview here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Board of Selectmen Pitch

In order for the vote on the new high school funding to go before the taxpayers, 4 of the 5 selectmen must vote in favor. Tonight Dr. Stacy Scott and the School Committee went before the Board of Selectmen to convince them to support the project.

Dr. Scott gave another convincing presentation followed by remarks by the School Committee (sans Ron Mercier who was absent or off camera - I didn't see him). Scott said if everything goes to plan, the school should be complete by 2015 or so. Chairman Matthew Sheehan reminded the selectmen that the state is paying over 60% of the tab and we may not see this money again anytime soon. If we don't do anything, we will have to pay millions of dollars to fix future problems at the school.

The selectmen asked a number of questions about funding, the burden on taxpayers, etc., especially Selectman John Zimini. Selectman Cathy Richardson also questioned why we are focusing on the high school and not the other schools in town. She suggested the schools come up with a capital plan focusing on building needs for the six other schools in town. Town Manager Dennis Piendak told the selectmen that there is a good "bidding climate" out there so the cost may actually come under what we're expecting.

As a trade off to the taxpayers, Selectman Joe DiRocco floated the idea Warren Shaw had about eliminating the Community Preservation Tax as a way for the town and the people to both "give a little." He said he is concerned that the town keeps on going to the people to "give and give and give." Selectman Bob Cox said he supported the project but raised the concern that the town has a number of building projects that are still unpaid for (i.e. police station, library, etc.) and warned that some may taxpayers may vote against the project because of that.

In the end, the board voted 5-0 to have a special Town Meeting on April 27 and to support the project going for a Prop 2 1/2 override vote on May 2 assuming it passes Town Meeting.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Archinski on Facebook

Tony Archinski, who is running for one of the two seats on the Board of Selectmen, has a Facebook page up for his campaign. He writes:

Dear Friends of Dracut,

Over the past several months, I have been speaking with many friends, neighbors and residents of Dracut about my intention to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen in the May 2011 election.

Residents of Dracut understand that these are tough times, both financially and politically, and they are looking for a leader like me to help move Dracut forward in a positive direction. That is why I have decided to enter this race, to produce better results.

Public service is not for the faint of heart. It takes an individual with strong character, experience in administration, and a degree of technical expertise, but most importantly, a good public servant is ultimately someone who cares about his community.

I know Dracut’s greatest asset is its people. From Old Home Day to the Dracut Scholarship Foundation to the concerts at the gazebo, are all examples of good people, with good ideas, producing great results. If elected to be your Selectman, my vested interest will always be your vested interest, because Dracut is my home. As a concerned citizen and proven leader whose devoted 25 years to the safety and prosperity of this town, I will always work hard for you.
I would be honored to serve you, the great people of this town.

With Warm Regards,

Tony Archinski
Candidate for Dracut Selectmen


He also has a website here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sheehan fundraiser

School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan, who is potentially facing three opponents in May's election, is having his campaign kick-off party on Sunday, February 27 from 2pm-5pm at O'Hara's on Lakeview Avenue. The suggested donation is $10.

Campaign 2011 Update

We have a new addition to the race for the Board of Selectmen. In addition to incumbents John Zimini and Bob Cox and challengers Pete Wide, Tony Archinski, and Kevin Gillan, Christopher Murphy of Litchfield Ave. has now taken out nomination papers.

This does not mean these guys are on the ballot. They each need to get 50 signatures from voters and submit the forms by March 14.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

EBT Follies

Today's Boston Herald has a less than flattering mention of Dracut. In an article about abuse of the EBT (i.e. food stamps) system they mention that someone spent $102 in food stamps at a "Dracut bar." Earlier today on Facebook, Michelle McPhee, who writes for the Herald and has a talk show on WRKO, identified the bar as the Joker's Lounge.

Ugh.

Monday, February 14, 2011

First of the season

Pete Wilde, running for the Board of Selectmen, was the first person to have a fundraiser of Campaign 2011. He posted on his Facebook page that Saturday's event was attended by Matthew Sheehan, Mike Miles, and Cathy Richardson.

I was somewhat surprised that they would go, especially Richardson. I know these elections are non-partisan but Richarson is a big Republican while Wilde is a Democrat. Plus, he is running against two of Richardson's colleagues. Perhaps she is just playing nice across the board.

As for Miles and Sheehan, there is no love loss between them and John Zimini so I can understand them trying to support an opponent of his. And perhaps Sheehan was trying to also drum up support for his own re-election. He potentially faces three challengers.

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Campaign 2011 Heating up

It looks like we may have a heck of an election this May. In addition to the potential Prop 2 1/2 override for the high school renovations, there looks like there will be hot races for the Board of Selectmen and School Committee.

As of yesterday, the following took out nomination papers for two seats on the Board of Selectmen:

Pete Wilde
Bob Cox
John Zimini
Tony Archinski
Kevin Gillan

For the seat on on the School Committee:

Matthew Sheehan
Michael Carleton
Mae Paquette
John Reid

Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New DHS

The PR blitz for the renovations at Dracut High School is on. Last Saturday Superintendent of Schools Stacy Scott was on with Warren Shaw and Shawn Ashe on WCAP and made a very convincing case that the people of Dracut should vote for this project. Shawn has the audio up here.

Next Wednesday, the Friends of a New Dracut High School are having a meeting/rally to organize support for the project. The event will be at the Meadow Creek Golf Club at 6pm. They also have a new website with tons of information on the project.

And just this week the Massachusetts School Building Assistance program voted to give the town $37 million towards the cost of the renovation. The taxpayers will have to pay the rest, about another $30 million. There will be a special Town Meeting on April 27 to vote on putting the measure on the May 2 ballot for a Prop 2 1/2 override. In addition, 4 of the 5 selectmen must also vote to move the project for a vote. If the override passes, each household will pay on average an extra $200 a year in taxes.

I can't imagine this not passing. I mean, Dracut would never turn down money from the state for a building project right? Cough cough Louisburg Square cough cough.

Running Wilde

After getting smoked in last year's Board of Selectman race, Pete Wilde is being aggressive on the campaign trail this year. He has a kick-off party this Sunday at O'Hara's, he is very active on Facebook, he is getting help from the Young Democrats of the Merrimack Valley, he has a show on DATV, and he is the first candidate out with a website.

Wilde does have some things to clarify, especially some of his statements about his past accomplishments. Some have questioned, for example, his claim that he is a veteran. Candidates for office can have the "Veteran" designation on the ballot but Wilde didn't last year.

Either way, Wilde is working hard. Assuming all the nomination papers are returned, he will face incumbents Bob Cox and John Zimini and former police officer Tony Archinski. There is also the rumor that former Selectman Jim O'Loughlin is thinking of running again.

Stay tuned.