Selectmen Offer Views on Development, Taxes & Budgets
Selectmen Chairman Mike Soter & Vice Chairman Dan Spencer
The Board of Selectmen, led by chairman Mike Soter and vice chairman Dan Spencer, is rolling up its sleeves to address Bellingham’s long-term financial stability. The two Selectmen were emphatic about the need for economic development to keep property taxes from rising. The pair stressed that the current budget year is “one of the toughest budget years in an economy that was stable.”
“If residents want to continue with no cuts to schools, public safety or infrastructure, then we’ll need commercial and industrial development projects to break ground for the 2019 fiscal year,” Soter said. “The current 2018 budget did not include any decreases for schools, public safety or infrastructure. We want to remain in line with what townspeople wanted when certain areas in town were zoned for commercial use. We were able to fund projects that made for a great community because economic development generated revenue.”
Both Selectmen noted that because of donations from businesses and industry, events such as the July 4 fireworks celebration and free movie nights are able to continue. “They also provide funds for us to assist projects like the Llittle Angels Splash Pad at Silver Lake,” Soter said.
Soter pointed to the controversial Campanelli warehouse development on High and Maple streets, saying that it is a project that is crucial to the town’s reconfiguration of the Route 140/Maple Street intersection.
“Townspeople should know that Bellingham will be able to apply for an infrastructure development grant of $1.5 million to $1.8 million to improve the intersection,” Soter said. “The total estimated cost is $2.2 million, but the remaining balance will come from mitigation funds negotiated with the Campanelli Company. That’s why the warehouse project, which has already been approved, needs to break ground this year. If that occurs, we’ll have a better chance at getting the grant money and finishing the intersection.”
Soter, who’s in his seventh year as a Selectman, says there are two choices if the warehouse groundbreaking doesn’t happen this year. “We can forgo fixing the intersection and let the traffic logjam continue or ask residents to come up with the $1.5 million in a debt exclusion,” he said.
Soter also emphasized that $900,000 for road improvements has been approved for the north side of Maple Street. “This was moved up on the road infrastructure list anticipating that the Campanelli project would break ground this September,” Soter said.
Spencer noted that Selectmen are not advocating more industrial or commercial zones. “We’re trying to utilize existing zoning areas to attract businesses to generate tax revenue in order to maintain our split tax rate that shifts more of the tax burden to industrial and commercial properties,” he said.
Bellingham’s residential tax rate is $14.34 per $1,000 and the business rate is $20.72. “If we can’t attract businesses that pay the commercial rate and are forced to go to a single tax rate, residential taxes will increase by 10-15 percent,” Spencer said.
The Bonvie Homes project received Town Meeting approval in June, and it will boost the town’s revenue once housing units are built. The project is an over-55 gated community located around the New England Country Club; it will be undergoing Planning Board and Conservation Commission review next month.
“We’re hoping both boards work diligently to ensure that this project gets off the ground for us to see the first house built by spring,” Soter said. “Each unit will generate $5,000 of revenue plus all the permitting fees and any negotiated mitigation improvements. The $5,000 figure comes with no town expenditure linked to the funds. Bonvie will deal with the roads, trash pickup and snow removal. This project also will provide a desperately needed economic boost for businesses along the Pulaski Boulevard corridor.”
Soter said that Bonvie Homes has already demonstrated its desire to be an established part of the community by making donations to help the girls softball program, the Bellingham Education Foundation and the YMCA.
Spencer, who’s been a Selectman for five years, wants residents to know that the Selectmen are sensitive to quality of life issues. “We want to make sure that the impact any business makes by locating in Bellingham is minimal,” he emphasized. “We want minimal impacts on the quality of life that residents have come to expect.”
In a move to stay on top of development and its impact on taxes and quality of life issues, the Selectmen voted to form a five-member economic development committee. The committee will focus on attracting businesses, marketing the Bellingham community and working with state officials to establish public and private partnerships to help improve infrastructure and lessen the burden of new businesses coming to town.