Forecaster Forum: Proof of the pudding is in Falmouth facilities vote

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No matter how you dress it up, eating crow is not a pleasant experience. With that said, let me take the first bite.

Last week’s edition of The Forecaster carried a story regarding my non-scientific survey of Falmouth residents who receive a periodic newsletter from me regarding town issues. The survey sent to about 1,000 people asked the question: Do you favor raising your property taxes to fund a $4 million loan to relocate town hall, the library and community programs to the Lunt/Plummer-Motz school site? Eighty percent (103 respondents) opposed the project, which was a stark difference from the results of a previous preference poll conducted by the ad hoc Falmouth Community Facilities Committee.

The intention of my survey was to gather opinions about the proposed community center in the mistaken belief that the matter of sending this project to referendum was still an open question. It is not. A majority of the Town Council voted to put the question on the November ballot at our last meeting. All that remains to be decided are the final costs and the wording of the question.

The chairwoman of the ad hoc committee, Councilor Cathy Breen, has rightfully taken issue with my survey and the context in which it was offered. While I had contended the committee’s survey did not include the pointed question of raising taxes to fund the project, she is absolutely correct that that was not the committee’s charge. Instead, the committee was asked to bring to the council a recommendation based on its public process and extensive research, which included a thorough financial analysis in its presentation including the impact on property tax rates. They have done just that and 88 percent (84 people) of those who participated in the community forum were willing, with that knowledge, to have their taxes raised to support the project. A smaller majority (55 percent or 263 people) of those who answered the survey online liked the idea of a community campus, although many online respondents likely did not view the entire presentation.

Implying that the committee has been anything but thorough and transparent would be a disservice and for that I sincerely apologize. They have done good work with the charge they were given and articulated a vision for a new community campus. If I had wanted a different process, I should have listened to Woody Allen when he said “80 percent of success is showing up.”

However, no matter how sorry I am, it does not change the question that will face voters in November. Is it worth adding as much as $500,000 to the annual cost of town government to centrally locate Town Hall, the library and community programs at the Lunt and Plummer-Motz site?

I hope residents will thoroughly review all the information the committee has posted on the town website about the proposal and that they will do so in the context of all their own financial obligations. The reality is that new taxes will be added in two years for the new elementary school, state funding for Falmouth schools is projected to be cut by $1.2 million next year and the state is facing more than a billion-dollar revenue shortfall – which will mean fewer services, higher taxes or shifting their costs back to towns and school districts. Finally, the federal government will soon be forced to collect additional taxes to pay off its $64 trillion debt.

With those thoughts in mind, plus all the good information from the committee, I look forward to seeing what Falmouth residents have to say on this important issue between now and, ultimately, at the polls in November.

Tony Payne is chairman of the Falmouth Town Council.