Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 6, 2014

Kowalski's tax break deserves attention

The Andover Townsman

---- — Selectman Dan Kowalski’s proposal to use $1 million in surplus money in the town budget to cut taxes is a good idea.

Some may say it’s a gimmick because such a small amount of money will be saved — a paltry $70 to $100 on average for the typical taxpayer in town.

But his proposed, one-time tax cut sends a couple of different messages: On the one hand, it shows that town leaders are listening to a growing chorus of discontent among property owners in town that their taxes are too high and town spending is out of control.

On the other hand, even though the savings may be small, for some people that $70 to $100 could be what they need to pay the phone bill or buy prescription medicine. It could mean purchasing a few more groceries or buying a new pair of shoes.

Just because there are some big, beautiful houses on huge, sweeping estates in Andover doesn’t mean that everyone in town is a millionaire. In fact, demographically, it appears that a growing percentage of people living here are elderly residents on fixed incomes. But even young couples starting out need a little relief now and then.

So from a practical standpoint, Kowalski’s good-will gesture to all those folks who may be struggling to get by from week to week should be applauded.

Taking a big-picture view, however, Kowalski’s proposal also tells town leaders that they must be held accountable for the decisions they make and the proposals they push. It’s nice to have a brand-spanking new elementary school on Bancroft Road. But when voters were giving their approval to the project two years ago — at Town Meeting and then at the ballot box — did they realize they were actually voting to give themselves a $300 a year tax increase?

That’s what happened in December when property owners got their tax bills from the town. The first installment of the 20-year tax hike for the Bancroft School hit tax bills that were due in February. And that’s when the phones started ringing and selectmen and other town officials were getting stopped in the street as people complained about high taxes.

During a recent meeting, selectmen and Finance Committee members debated whether people realized what would happen when the cost of Bancroft hit their tax bills.

It makes one shudder to think what would happen if Town Meeting ever approves a $20 million plan to move the town yard, along with the proposed $6 million to $7 million plan to build a new Ballardvale fire station. Add in the potential cost of a major high school overhaul — pegged at something like $10 million — and the cost of purchasing the Phillips boathouse for another $1 million. Then add on the cost of building a new early-childhood education center for another $1 million to $2 million. Before long, you’re talking about serious money. And serious decisions.

To his credit, Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski has also heard the hue and cry, holding off on proposing any major, new capital projects this year, although there are many more projects being paid for through borrowing. He seems to have heard the message: Enough is enough.