Monday, November 14, 2016

Foxboro Tax Proposal Bad for Town

GOUVEIA: Foxboro tax proposal is flawed

Suggestion that town not tax to the max is appealing but irresponsible
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Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2016 10:31 pm | Updated: 10:38 pm, Sun Nov 13, 2016.

Selectman Jim DeVellis is getting lots of positive attention for his recent suggestion that Foxboro not tax to the full limit allowed by Proposition 2 1/2 this year. That's not surprising, because almost anything reducing the burden of taxpayers is going to be initially supported.
But Foxboro officials and voters would be smart to study this very carefully before jumping to implement it. While it makes great headlines and will win over a lot of property taxpayers, it is a bad idea on a lot of levels.

To greatly oversimplify, the DeVellis plan goes something like this. He believes Foxboro could probably maintain close to level services this year by increasing the levy limit by 1 1/4 percent instead of 2 1/2 percent. He wants a budget proposal limiting the revenue increase in that manner. That way the inevitable property tax increase will be slightly lower than it would otherwise.
Sounds good, right?
Well, it's a wonderful idea politically. The problem is that it is financially unwise and fiscally irresponsible, for a number of complicated yet important reasons.
If DeVellis and others truly believe Foxboro can provide proper services to its residents with only a 1 1/4 percent increase in the levy limit this year, thus reducing capacity going forward, that's great. That means in their opinion, Foxboro currently has a perfectly fine level of police and fire protection, the schools have enough money to provide a better-than-average education and residents are content with everything else the town is currently providing.
But if Foxboro chooses this option, they never recover that 1 1/4 percent. It does not get added to the base for next year, the year after, or any year after that. And when that "level service" budget is required to jump up a bit in this still-growing town a few years from now, the taxpayers at that time will pay more for the shortsightedness of the current administration.
Selectman David Feldman joined DeVellis in suggesting the possibility of such a move. "At some point, when you have really good years, there should be the ability to give something back to the taxpayers," Feldman said. "I think we owe it to the community to at least look at it."
A good year? It would be wise to come up with a sound definition of that term before taking any more action.
Foxboro has increased revenues other than the property tax by quite a bit in recent years. In case you missed it, they have an NFL franchise and a stadium in town that provides considerable income. After several tries, they adopted a meals tax that is allowing them to take advantage of the unique opportunity that is Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place.
But they are also a community with infrastructure issues. They are building a new town hall. They will have other capital equipment and building needs in the not-too-distant future. Many of those may have to be paid through debt exclusions.
Wouldn't it be smart to bank that 1 1/4 percent in the town's reserve accounts and put it towards that spending they know is coming? Doesn't that make more sense than having taxpayers have to foot the entire bill later on even though it can be anticipated now?
And the idea of "giving something back" to the taxpayers is an interesting one. Taxpayers are not making donations to the community when they make their considerable payments.
They are funding services, important services they rely on every day. They "get back" something every time the police answer a call, the ambulance comes when they need it, the schools educate their children, the planning and conservation agents provide expert services and the roads they drive on are well-maintained.
That's not to say they don't deserve to pay as little as possible while maintaining the quality of life the community wants and needs. And if Foxboro is all set for the future - then by all means, don't tax to the limit.
But this is not a business. It can't just stop providing certain services when it is no longer cost effective to do so. And officials have to understand that.
That's not going to make them as popular. But it's better for the community in general. Not to mention a whole lot smarter.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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