The Boston Globe reported last Sunday that Weston assessed property values rose just 1.9 percent from 2007 to 2013, whereas average property taxes rose 23.2 percent, from $13,739 to $16,921. Over the same six-year period, the average assessed values for Boston suburbs dropped 12.8 percent, but property taxes increased 22.6 percent. (Globe West, p. 7). Are these troubling trends sustainable? No.
Weston continues to have the highest property taxes in dollars out of 351 municipalities in the state. Does any household with less than 3 kids in the public schools get "good value" from the town government for almost $17,000 in property taxes per year? Not really.
Will Weston residential property values continue to rise as Baby Boomers age, become empty nesters and start to downsize? As Herman Melville might say, call me skeptical. Yet town spending and debt continue to grow out of control, with annual budgets over $80 million and debt to exceed $92 million by fiscal year 2015 per the Finance Committee, or over $25,000 per household.
Meanwhile, the federal debt is over $16 trillion and Gov. Deval Patrick wants to raise state spending and taxes by over $1 billion.
This wasteful spending is fostered at the local level by voter apathy, out of town employees and contractors, lack of benchmarking and/or considering best practices in peer towns, and public officials who try to bully residents by suppressing free speech.
Moderator Wendy Spector cut speakers off at town meetings after just 3 minutes and attendance tanked by over a third to below 4 percent of registered voters. Selectman Michael Harrity banned elective office candidates speaking at all at our Town Caucus. Former WTMAC Chairperson Tom Crane imposed prior restraints on committee members’ email in clear violation of their First Amendment right of protected political free speech.
None of this has been reported clearly or effectively by local media.
To get town spending under control as urged eloquently by fellow residents like Bill Sandalls, Henry Viles and others, voters should question bad ideas, like the Urbanica proposal to spend over $4 million of taxpayer money for private purposes and profits regarding the Old Library and JS Tavern.
However, to have a fully informed and engaged electorate empowered to make wise long-term financial decisions, we need to have debates based on preservation of First Amendment free speech, which too many Weston public officials seem to fear.
William C. Crum
33 Hobbs Brook Road
Weston, MA 02493-2013