Monday, June 14, 2010

Content within context

This is a relatively quiet week this week.

  • Cultural Council meeting Monday at 7:00
  • Historical Commission meets Tuesday at 6:30
  • Recycling Committee meets Wednesday at 6:30
  • Town Council meets Wednesday at 7:00
  • Board of Assessors meets on Thursday at 9:00 AM
  • Conservation Committee meets on Thursday at 7:15
  • School Budget Subcommittee meets on Friday at 7:30 AM

Take a few minutes (16 actually) to watch David Bryne talk about music's evolution as influenced by the architecture of each time/culture.

With context so important for the content, how do we create the proper context for a civil and honest discussion?

More on context and content here


and here:

Note: email subscribers will need to click through to Franklin Matters to view the video

Franklin, MA

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Refreshed: tax rate and split tax

This post has been refreshed. It was initially published on November 29,2009 in preparation for the Town Council meeting where the annual tax classification hearing would be held. As the tax rate and split tax is continuing to be an ongoing discussion, I want to bring this forward for the new readers and those who may have missed it the first time around.

The reporting from the Town Council meeting Wednesday Dec 9, 2009 can be found here:

This internet radio show or podcast is number 50 in the series for Franklin Matters. In this session, you give me about ten minutes and I'll fill you in on what matters in Franklin. In particular, we'll prepare for the Town Council meeting Wednesday (Dec 9, 2009) where the big item on the agenda will be the annual tax classification hearing

Time: 10 minutes, 47 seconds

Audio file ->

Session Notes:

This internet radio show or podcast is number 50 in the series for Franklin Matters.

In this session, you give me about ten minutes and I'll fill you in on what matters in Franklin.

In particular, we'll prepare for the Town Council meeting this Wednesday where the big item on the agenda will be the annual tax classification hearing beginning at 7:10 PM.

This is the time and place where the Town Council determines to keep a single tax rate or decides to implement a split tax rate.

I have reviewed the data provided by the Board of Assessors for this hearing. I have also spent some time on the Dept of Revenue website obtaining some historical data on Franklin's budget, tax rate, etc.

I have prepared a few slides to share some information that I think can help understand the overall situation to get ready for the meeting Wednesday.

Page 2 shows a table showing the residential vs. commercial/industrial property mix since 1999. It has varied a little each year but generally around 80% residential and 20% commercial/industrial. The high point for residential was 82.12 in 1988 and the low point was 77.04 in 1993.

Page 3 shows the same numbers in a chart format. As there is so little variance, I think this is more clear and understandable than the table of numbers.

Page 4 shows the tax rate as it has varied throughout the years from 1988 to 2009. I really shouldn't use a line to depict the point in time number for each year, but it is much easier to view the data this way. The tax rate high point was in 1997 when it was 14.21% and the low point (in the period shown) was 8.86% in 2007. I find it interesting that the tax rate has dropped for nine of the last twelve years and yet all you hear about is our tax problem?

Well, Page 5 more clearly shows what our tax problem is. The numbers on this chart depict the average tax bill for the period 1988 through 2009. As you can see from the reddish bars, in no year did the average tax bill decrease. The tax rate line from Page 4 is also shown here. Clearly, the tax rate whether it goes up or down seems to have little effect on the tax bill. It is always going up.

There are many reasons for the increases shown. I don't have all the information to explain nor do I have the time this week to do so. What I can show on Page 6 is how the assessed value effects the tax rate. The reddish bars in this case depict the NET change in assessed total value of all the properties in Franklin. Since 2006 the commercial industrial (CI) assessed values have been in a decline. In 2006 and 2007, the new grown for CI covered the decline in valuation so there was a net grown for CI. But for 2008, 2009 and for FY 2010, the new growth has not been able to cover the decline in valuation. More importantly, on the residential side, the decline in valuation has far exceeded the new growth. Hence the overall decline in total assessed values has dropped from 4.9 billion in 2007 to 4.3 billion for FY 2010. With less tax base upon which to levy the same amount of tax revenue, guess what, the tax rate will increase. The decline in overall assessed values has driven the increase for 2008, 2009 and will do so again in 2010.

Yes, I can hear some folks now saying “let's go with a split tax rate”. With kind of property mix we have, a split tax does not solve our problem. See, the split tax does not increase overall tax revenues, it only shifts the proportion of the pie that each party pays as shown on Page 7. For a single dollar decrease in residential property tax, the CI increase would need to be $4. We don't need to shift the tax burden from one to another. We need to grow the overall tax base. We need a bigger pie.

The best opportunities for grow come from the underutilized CI space we have. You should be aware of the efforts of Bryan Taberner and others in the Department of Planning and Community Development. They are busy working to market the attractiveness of Franklin for CI uses. This is where we need to develop. We don't need additional residential properties which would further burden the school system. We need healthy growth in CI properties to provide tax revenues and maybe even provide some jobs for local residents.

Page 8 and 9 provide information on the sources of the data that I used to prepare this. As well as contact information if you have any questions or would like to review this further.

One page in the appendix that charts the “free cash” to “free cash as a percent of the overall Town budget. At the end of the last council meeting, Judy Pfeffer asked Jeff Nutting for some information on the history behind “free cash”. I expect Jeff to come back with his answer but while I was putting together my analysis, I found these numbers at the MA DOR website that may help answer part of Judy's question. I think the current administration has done very well in reducing the fluctuations that can be seen over the years. The big spike in FY 2001 I believe is likely related to the settlement that the Town won. It ended up in “free cash” before the Town Council moved it to the Stabilization Fund. (Note: It is my mistake that this paragraph of text did not get recorded. It does go along with the one page that did make it to the appendix.)

For the week ahead:
  • Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday
  • Town Council meeting Wednesday
  • Holiday Stroll on Thursday sponsored by the Downtown Partnership

I would encourage you to participate in these events.

---- ---- ----

This podcast is my public service effort for Franklin but I can't do it alone. I can use your help.

How can you help?
If you like this, please tell a neighbor.
If you don't like this, please tell me.
Thank you for listening.

For additional information, please visit

If you have questions or comments you can reach me directly at shersteve @ gmail dot com

The music for the intro and exit was provided by Michael Clark and East of Shirley. The piece is titled "Ernesto, manana" c. Michael Clark & Tintype Tunes, 2008 and used with permission.

Franklin, MA: in the mail this week

1 - The annual Consumer Confidence Report published by the Franklin Water Dept. arrived this week. The report covers 2009. The 2008 (and earlier reports) can be found on the Franklin website here:

2 - The DPW sent out the information flyer on the new solid waste (trash and recycling) process that will begin July 1. The flyer can also be found on the DPW website here (PDF) or viewed below:

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Note: email subscribers will need to click through to Franklin Matters to view the document

Franklin, MA

What small change can be made

What small change be made such that is has a great impact?

(Aside from getting folks to deal with accurate information rather than hearsay and misinformation.)

Interesting perspective posed here in this TED Talk from London:

I have advertised myself as Community Information Director, maybe I should consider shifting to Chief Detail Officer? This is a volunteer position in either case, unfortunately Franklin's budget problems couldn't support the role.

What do you propose?

Note: email subscribers will need to click through to Franklin Matters to view the video

Franklin, MA

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hi ho, Hi ho - an update on the raised gardens

On the food and nutrition front, remember the raised garden beds? Yes, they are still around and growing.

The pictures above and below are from the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School. Look closely and observe that the plant sign is in French. They have worked the foreign language curriculum into the garden process.

I met with Deb Schwab and four students to discuss using a blog to post the journal of their gardening activities and observations. I set one up for them. They need to complete their account set up and hopefully we'll get to do that before school breaks for the summer.

And what is this item? A tool worthy of hoeing the garden with! Ken Norman proudly shared this with the group. It has about a three foot handle so this was the best I could do with my camera phone at the time.

One tip I took away from the recent raised garden group meeting was in regards to weeding. If the weed has seeds, pinch the seeds and take them out of the garden area. If the weed doesn't have seeds, just hoe it back into the ground. The greenery will return the nutrients to the earth naturally.

And for your viewing pleasure: Rachel Ray was recently on Capitol Hill to help work on this issue

Hi ho, hi ho, off to blog I go!

Prior articles on the raised garden beds can be found here

Just after the raised gardens were put in

At the Franklin Food Pantry

Franklin, MA

Strawberry Festival - Third Thursday - 6/17/10

The Franklin Downtown Partnership’s eighth annual Strawberry Festival will be held on Thursday, June 17, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. For the first time the Partnership is combining this popular event with its Third Thursday line-up, and the group’s famous strawberry shortcakes won’t be the only draw this year.

Live music at five locations, games and balloons for kids, a sidewalk sale, museum tours and face painting are just some of the activities designed to give families plenty to do throughout the downtown.

“We want this festival to be all about families,” says Lisa Piana, executive director of the Partnership. “This is our big kick-off to summer and our Third Thursday events. We have more businesses participating this year than ever before, offering something for everyone.”

Some of those offerings include a fitness demonstration by Team Fitness, chocolate covered strawberries and a “strawberry pedicure” at Salon Sorella, and food specials at various restaurants. Emma’s Quilt Shop invites everyone to stop in and participate in the 1 Million Pillowcase charity sewing event.

The Historical Museum will offer tours and old-fashioned lemonade on the porch with entertainment by Jack Murray from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Rick’s Restaurant will sponsor a classic car “Cruise Night” and feature a live R & B band. An artist’s reception at Jane’s Frames will highlight the Franklin High School 2011 AP Portfolio Class and entertainer Jamie Barrett.

John Kinney will perform at the festival municipal parking lot on West Central Street from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., Jamie Barrett will play from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., and Dave Navikas will entertain patrons on the Café Dolce Patio from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Parking is available in the municipal lots downtown. In addition, the “Strawberry Express” GATRA bus will ferry visitors from the town common on High Street to various event locations downtown.

The festival is made possible through generous donations by Silver sponsors NHS Print, Garelick, Dean Bank, Dean College , Rockland Trust Charitable Foundation and Middlesex Savings Bank, as well as Bronze sponsors Ever So Humble, CVS Pharmacy, ReMax/Eileen Mason and Doherty, Ciechanowski, Dugan & Cannon, P.C.

If you would like to volunteer or want more information about the Strawberry Festival, contact Chairperson Nicole Fortier at For more information about the Franklin Downtown Partnership please contact Executive Director Lisa Piana at or call (774) 571-3109.

Photos from last year's Strawberry Festival can be found here:

Friday, June 11, 2010

people buy why you do it

Simon Sinek has an answer by asking the question, Why? Maybe the golden circle can help explain how some overrides pass and some fail.

What do you think about this?

Note: email subscribers will need to click through to Franklin Matters to view the video

Franklin, MA

Looking for work? Considering entrepreneur or franchise?

If you are looking for work or are considering going into business for yourself either as an entrepreneur or with a franchise, the speaker at the Hopkinton Networking Group meeting Friday, June 11 is one to catch.

Suzanne Gray gave a presentation on this topic at the recent Job Search Jam Sessions and it was well received.

If you missed that, you get another chance today!

When: 10:00 AM - Noon
Where: St John's Evangelist Parish Center, 20 Church St, Hopkinton
Cost: $1

Note: this was also posted on the Job Search Jam Session site here

Franklin, MA

Farmers Market - today - noon to 6:00 PM

The Farmers Market opens today from noon to 6:00 PM on the Town Common

Fresh local produce!

 Franklin, MA

In the News - Senior expo, budget, Gianotti

Franklin Senior Expo is today

Franklin OKs $88.1 million budget

Franklin, MA

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Live reporting - Town Council - FY 2011 Budget Hearing - Part 2

Present:  Kelly, Jones, Vallee, Whalen, Mason, Pfeffer, Powderly
Absent: McGann, Zollo

Jeff Nutting, Susan Gagner, Jim Dacey

no questions or comments before going through the budget line items, items can be held for discussion

Hold on police expenses - Vallee
My priority is health, safety and education
We are down to 45 with a population of 33, 000
I don't feel comfortbale with that

Vallee - how many on a shift?
Williams - I try to run 6-8 on a shift
Sooner or later we are going to get caught, I don't want anyone pointing fingers
We do 42,000 incidents, almost 6,000 - 911 calls
When the economy turns down, the activities turn up
There are more stress levels in the home environment, it takes an officer longer to resolve the issues
Am I comfortable, no

Vallee - I think we should have cut other departments to maintain staff here

Williams - We are also loosing three dispatchers this year, I will only have two people during the peak times
there will be times when citizens will call and they will wait, can't be helped

Vallee - Hold on fire salaries
McCarragher - with 12 per shift, and one off, we could still staff two vehicles
with 11 on shift, and one off, we can only staff one vehicle
it is a very complex event, 50% of our calls are coming in back-to-back
we need to figure out how to staff and not tax our surrounding help, it won't help them and it won't help us
What's going to happen on July 1, I still don't know yet

Vallee - I am getting complaints about too many people showing up on an ambulance call
McCarragher - the most important service is responding to the next one, we are living within the means we are given, we are relying upon partners and we are trying to figure this out

Vallee - I am unhappy with the situation, it is getting worse every year
McCarragher - yes, I can agree with you on that point

Jones - Is there a standard
McCarragher - we are staffed for 2 minor emergencies to handle at once, or one major emergency
With the budget being voted on tonight, I have nine instead of ten

Kelly - Hold on OPEB
our responsibility is a whole lot more is this just a place holder?
Nutting - yes, this is a start, I will be coming back with a more complete analysis we can transfer other monies there and invest a little more aggressively

Resolution on Elected Officials Salaries
Motion to approve, passed 7-0
MA general law have to be voted separately, they deferred their salaries last year and this get them whole this year like everyone else

(see document on link for full details of resolution)
Resolution on Town Budget for FY 2011
motion to approve, passed 7-0
Sewer rate increase likely next year

Council Comments
Powderly - Bellingham police office struck on traffic duty
Fire statistics are showing a decline in response

Vallee - can we take some money from the Stabilization fund to provide more safety
Nutting - the Council can do that at any time with a two thirds vote, taking money for one time events will create further problems down the road

Whalen - with regards to the Police and Fire budget cuts they should not be a surprise to anyone
They were well notified during the recent discussions
Taking money from the stabilization fund, we should not take that for operational deficits
If we did so, as we eventually go for financing the high school renovations, that would on an out of pocket calculation about a $2 million increase that we can avoid.

Mason - I spoke to a gentleman today who thought the best idea was to reduce the overtime
when staff goes down the overtime goes up, coverage is still required

The Budget hearing document for Thursday can be found here (PDF)

Franklin, MA

Franklin, MA: Town Council - Budget Hearing 6/10/10

The Town Council met on Wednesday and will meet again today (Thursday, 6/10/10) to finalize the budget for fiscal year 2011. The Finance Committee has already held their budget hearings to prepare for these meetings. The decision to hold an override vote to help balance the budget given the shortfall projected and real had been made. The vote was held on June 8th and there won't be additional tax revenue from the residents to work with for FY 2011.

The budget hearings will finalize the budget cutting personnel and services.

The Budget hearing document for Thursday can be found here (PDF)

My notes on the hearing Wednesday can be found here:

For reference the Finance Committee budget hearings can be found here:
May 4th
May 6th
May 10th

The Budget Workshop held on January 25, 2010 can be found here

Franklin, MA

In the News - layoffs, FHS renovation

Franklin plans for layoffs

from The Milford Daily News News RSS 

Franklin High renovation plans progress

from The Milford Daily News News RSS 

Franklin, MA

"you need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable"

In this 12 minute video clip, John Perry Barlow says:

the internet is enabling the possibility of collective human thought
it was going to be a difficult road
it was going to question every system of authority

political process, you need each other
you need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable
all politics is local

it is possible to see the future where money didn't matter in an election

the internet has made it practically impossible to govern something like the nation

we have to use the same mechanism where we ran a campaign from the bottom to run the government from the bottom

A worthy lesson given the recent events around the override vote

Note: email subscribers will need to click through to Franklin Matters to view the video clip.

Franklin, MA

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Live reporting - Town Council - FY 2011 Budget Hearing

Present: Kelly, Jones, Whalen, Mason, Pfeffer, McGann, Powderly, Zollo
Absent: Vallee

Jeff Nutting, Jim Dacey, Susan Gagner

Part one of two part budget hearing, Wednesday and Thursday
Thanks to Susan and Jim for their work on preparation, the FINCOM also reviewed this, thanks to them for their help

Revenue side
The budget starts in the Fall and as we go through the year
We are always looking ahead to see what we are facing.
As bad as this is, we will be wishing next year that this year is back.
We are already thinking about that.

Revenue up a couple million, allowed to increase up to 2.5 percent - $1.8 million
Interest income, excise taxes, state aid loss again this year (lost in excess of $3 M in last three years)

May have to ask for the Council to change the budget procedurally in July
We are using the House budget, the Senate budget is different
We won't know exactly until the State makes their decision final.

We did take advantage of the meals tax, we have $300,000 from that which helps this year

We will start a $1.2 Million in the hole next year due to one time stimulus funds this year not available next year.

Expense side
All budgets reflect a deferment of the wages from last year's budget
They are in effect this year

The health care changes the employees agreed to and that has saved jobs

Overall the budgets are supressed
The Town loses nine positions, the Schools lose 15 and other changes that they'll will elaborate on as this goes
The DPW loses three people, there will be delays in lawn cutting, etc.
The Police are losing three dispatchers so that will delay some calls, hopefully not 911 calls

Q - Pfeffer
What are the increases reflected in this budget?
A - Nutting
There is no fiscal 2011 increase in this budget
Most of the contracts remain to be negotiated

Q - Pfeffer
I just hope whoever is going into negotiation knows that there is 0%
A - Nutting

Hold on Police Salaries - Whalen
Hold on unemployment compensation - Nutting
Hold on OPEB - Nutting

1 - Hold on Police Salaries - Whalen
The vast majority is the three dispatchers

2 - Hold on unemployment compensation - Nutting
Putting the Council on notice to add money to this account, with more layoffs coming, we will need more in this account, add $100,000 from free cash

3 - Hold on OPEB - Nutting
If money is put into this account, we can invest it more aggressively 
We need to look at this to meet our unfunded liability

Motion to close hearing, approved 8-0

Council comments
Powderly - thanks for all the activities, those who voted and those who did not vote also counted
The issues are not going to change next year

Zollo - thanks for all the effort
we will respect the will of the voters
As the overrides continue to come, as they will, I hope the increase

the Fire station, needs to be taken care of, why can't the fireman take care of it
The trees need to be taken care of, they are living trees

Thanks to all of those who came out to vote
We are going to make some cuts that will hurt

Overrides tend to bring out the worst in people
I wrote a letter that is posted on Franklin Matters, I am a better writer than speaker, so I urge you to go read the letter

Motion to adjourn, passed 8-0

Franklin, MA