Monthly Archives: April 2007

Celebrating Newburyport’s Historic Preservation

I was reading Saturday’s Newburyport Daily News, “Man behind Market Square wins preservation award,” by Steve Landwehr, about how Paul McGinley is being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Boston Preservation Alliance for a number of preservation projects including Newburyport’s very own Market Square.

That’s cool. In fact that’s very cool.

I’m reading along:

“McGinley was working for an engineering firm in 1970 when he heard Newburyport was looking for someone to direct its renewal. He applied and got the job of executive director of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority…

He inherited a program that was already in debt and needed even more money. In fact, the only reason he got the job was the city ran out of cash to demolish the downtown and put up a single-story shopping mall.”
Newburyport Daily News, April 28, 2007

Wait a moment. Excuse me?

“In fact, the only reason he got the job was the city ran out of cash to demolish the downtown and put up a single-story shopping mall.”

Whoa, whoa. Slow down here.

The article is saying that the only reason Newburyport, MA exists the way it does today is because the city of Newburyport, MA ran out of money?

I have never heard this one before. This little tidbit of information is not a part of our “urban legend.” Our “urban legend” is full of heroes and farsighted thinkers, not running out of money.

And just for reminders sake, here is a picture of the model (courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, now being displayed at the Newburyport Daily News) of what the city would have looked like with that “single-story shopping mall.”

NRA.model-1.jpg
Model of what Newburyport, MA
would have looked like with the single-story shopping mall

Market-Sq.jpg
Market Square today

In fact, Newburyport, MA exists the way it does today because of so many thoughtful, heroic and farsighted people.

And in the year 2007, there is a “new” set of folks who have stepped up to the plate, the Newburyport Preservation Trust.

The Newburyport Preservation Trust was started by Linda Miller, and has recently really taken off.

And next Saturday, the Newburyport Preservation Trust celebrates its first annual Preservation Week from May 5- 12, 2007.

For more information press here for the Trust’s main website. Or you can also press here to take you directly to the “Events” page of the Newburyport Preservation Trust.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, The Partnership Act and Money for Cities and Towns

Helping Massachusetts cities and towns with their property tax “crisis” –Governor Deval’s “Partnership Act.”

One of the things I really like about the “Partnership Act” (Municipal Partnership Act– its official name) is that it would close a property tax exemption created in 1915 that exempts telecommunications companies from paying property taxes on their (telephone) poles.

I believe that we are talking about Verizon here.

And as I understand it electric companies are paying taxes on their half of (telephone) poles, that they share with telecommunication companies that are exempt.

Good grief. That seems crazy to me.

“The best figures I have show that fairly taxing telecomm companies would add $261,330.00 in sorely needed revenue for Arlington.”
Bluemassgroup.com, Tuesday, April 10, 2007

That’s an unofficial figure for one town, but folks, that’s a good chunk of change.

The argument against ending this antiquated loophole would be that Verizon would leave the state and run for the hills (I think that it’s unlikely Verizon would run for the hills, they appear to have way too much invested in the state of Massachusetts).

The other argument is that Verizon would pass this added expense onto the consumer.

“The governor discounted the arguments of Verizon Communications that closing the telecommunications tax loophole would lead directly to higher rates for consumers. He said Verizon has raised its rates by 30 percent even while its overall tax bill has gone down 46 percent.

The 92-year-old law, originally designed to bring telephone service to all corners of the state, exempts telephone companies from paying property taxes on poles and wires, an exemption worth an estimated $78 million, according to the governor.”
“Local officials, governor urge passage of Municipal Partnership Act” by MMA Publications/Web Director John Ouellette, Tuesday, April 10, 2007.

So as we are thinking about the fiscal crisis facing Newburyport, MA and a whole lot of other cities and towns across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, getting Verizon to pay for their half of the telephone poles works for me.

It just seems like plain old common sense.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Tax Relief

Now that I’ve chit chatted about the Republican point of view towards local fiscal woes, George Cushing, the political consultant for the Newburyport Blog felt it was really time to take a look at the Democrat point of view.

Ok, George. Good idea.

And that means taking a look at Governor Deval’s “Partnership Act” (The long version, the “Municipal Partnership Act.”), which I gather is still being “tweaked.” And I gather the Partnership Act is not support by one and all. Gee, what a surprise.

Let’s start with something simple in the proposal:

The Partnership Act would allow cities and towns to adopt a sales tax on meals of up to 2 percent in addition to the 5 percent state tax.

25 percent would go to property tax relief for seniors.

“Local officials, Patrick testify on behalf of partnership act”
mma.org, Tuesday, April 10, 2007

“Patrick described the local option taxes on meals as “purely a local decision.”

“The idea is to trust local communities to make those judgments by themselves according to their own circumstances,” he said.

He cited studies showing that New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle all have higher meals taxes than Boston would if it were able to enact the local option tax.

“In all those places the restaurant business is booming,” Patrick added.

Twenty-five percent of the revenue generated by the local option meals tax and room occupancy tax would be used to reimburse cities and towns for property tax exemptions that senior citizens are eligible for.”

By MMA Associate Editor Mitch Evich

A Republican response to this, aside from the fact that it’s yet one more tax on top of all the other taxes is this:

“Deval’s local tax hike scheme actually gets worse in the details. The reason, friends, is that communities that make the mistake of raising these local taxes only get to keep 75 percent of the hike. The rest goes into (hold your breath) a state fund that would reimburse communities that provide property tax abatements for senior citizens.”
blog.worcestercountyrepublicanclub.com, February 28, 2007

Liberal Democrat that I am, I think 25% towards a property relief for seniors is a good thing. That one really works for me.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Override Opinions

In my hunt for what Barbara Anderson was referring when she was talking about “fighting for reforms that would save money,” I learned a lot.

I discovered 2 really good blogs. One is a Democratic blog, BelowBoston.com and one is a Republican blog, worcestercountyrepublicanclub.com. Two really good blogs from two completely different points of view. I highly recommend them.

One of these blogs directed me towards the The Patriot Ledger where I found this quote about Barbara Anderson (who I gather is a Republican).

“Barbara Anderson, president of Citizens for Limited Taxation, the group that led the campaign to adopt Proposition 2 ½ in 1980, predicts that voter support for overrides will continue to erode as long as municipal employee benefits continue to exceed those in the private sector.

“People are starting to connect these tax requests with the general inability of elected officials to deal with these issues,” she said. “The people they’re asking for the overrides are the ones themselves trying to afford health insurance.”

The Patriot Ledger, April 7, 2007, “More towns face grim possibility of tax overrides,” By Rick Collins

The same article also says:

“Lean increases in state aid, empty rainy-day accounts and continuing double-digit increases in personnel costs mean many communities can no longer afford to provide services at current levels.


“Scores of communities are reaching a point where they simply don’t have the revenue, no matter how much they squeeze, to support the existing level of services,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Many predict communities will continue to experience money problems unless they make drastic cuts in payrolls, benefits and services, or they hike taxes.

The issue, some say, is not just the number of town employees – most communities have fewer now than they did before 2004 – but rather employee benefits such as pensions, guaranteed pay hikes and relatively low-cost health care.

Health care costs for municipalities increase an average of about 10 percent annually and consume larger amounts of a community’s budget.”

The Patriot Ledger, April 7, 2007, “More towns face grim possibility of tax overrides,” By Rick Collins

Michael J. Widmer I gather is also a Republican (I’m a Liberal Democrat) and it appears he is not much liked by BelowBoston.com. BelowBoston.com does not appear to like Barbara Anderson much either.

So, I’m on a huge learning curve here. Anderson and Widmer are new names to moi. And even though I am a Democrat, I am very interested in their point of view.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Coffee and the Override

On Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 8:30 in the morning I was invited to have coffee at one of my “young” neighbor’s house (I think that they are adorable, the “young” family), to have a civil discussion about the $1.58Million override for our schools. (Election May 22, 2007)

I’m not exactly “on the planet” at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. And I had my doubts about whether a civil discussion would be possible on the override, should their be different points of view.

I managed to get there about 9:30 and mouthed the word “coffee” to my very adorable young neighbors, and they very graciously handed me a cup of coffee ASAP.

The Vice-Chair of the Newburyport School Committee was there as well as the chair for the “Yes for Newburyport” pro-override group.

When everyone had left, my neighbors and the chair of the “Yes for Newburyport” pro-override group asked me what it would take for me to change my mind about the override for our Newburyport schools.

And this is what I told them (in no particular order).

1) We all agreed that the “eye rolling” (or what I call the “eye rolling attitude”) was a huge mistake, and needed to come to an end ASAP. There was unanimous consent on that one. They had become well aware of the “eye rolling” problem.

2) Just last December 2006 we were talking about an override for, in my opinion, an unbelievably expensive and ridiculously elaborate building plan for our elementary schools. The plan is still on the Newburyport School’s website and to my knowledge, the plan has not been voted off the table. This is very confusing to the voters of Newburyport, MA. My suggestion was for the Newburyport School Committee to vote that plan off the table ASAP.

They agreed.

3) One of my major concerns is the fact that health care for the city of Newburyport, MA is a skyrocketing expense, and in 2-3 years could make an investment in an override for our schools moot, by gnawing away at the proposed tax increase.

My suggestion, was for the “Yes for Newburyport” pro-override group to come up with a long term state and local plan to address that issue, whether it is from a Republican point of view, or a Democratic point of view, and lead the way to beginning to solve that “Pac-Man” (does that date me or what) of an issue.

They agreed.

4) I suggested that they talk to all the Newburyport City Councilors who originally voted against the override (all 7 of them), and ask them about their ideas to curb the skyrocketing expenses concerning our city budget. The idea being, instead of preaching to folks, to ask them for their input, knowledge and ideas. To build bridges instead of razing them.

They also thought that was a good idea. (I’m batting 4 for 4 here.)

One of the things that they said to me was, “Mary, we are really new at this and we need all the help that we can get.” They also said that they had learned a lot.

As a city, we have a young, very intelligent and very well educated group of people who have all of a sudden become very involved in the political process. My great hope is that this new group would be able to see the bigger picture and how it involves them. And then help us as a city, problem solve the very difficult and complex issues that are before us, our schools being one of many pressing problems at hand.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Springtime and Money for Newburyport, MA

On Saturday I went for a walk downtown and along Newburyport’s beautiful boardwalk, that runs along the mouth of the Merrimac River from the Black Cow Restaurant to the Customs House Maritime Museum.

It was as if after a long dormant winter, Newburyport, MA had come alive on this gorgeous spring day.

And I hate to say it folks, and I didn’t count the cars, but the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority lot down by the Customs House Maritime Museum was full. And all those tourists brought $$ to Newburyport, MA.

I am an artist, I do not have a Political Science degree or a Business degree, so when I blog about many of the issues on the Newburyport Blog, I often feel like a complete neophyte.

But the more I understand the fiscal crisis that Newburyport, MA is facing, the more I understand how important it is for the city of Newburyport, MA to have a commercial base.

One of the blogs I have discovered is the “Milton View.” The blog’s author, Philip Mathews, discusses many of the same problems that Newburyport, MA is confronted by. I highly recommend it.

According to the “Milton View,” Milton, MA relies almost solely on its residential property tax and has a lack of commercial development that has led to a lopsided tax base. And Milton relies on “overrides” to pay for a myriad of things.

Luckily, Newburyport has a vibrant downtown and the Industrial Park, all of which, one would assume, could help with our municipal taxes.

I’ve never paid much attention, to the “business” part of Newburyport, MA, but I guess I may start to pay more attention now. Because it appears that escalating residential property taxes may not be a long term solution for Newburyport, MA.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Municipal Partnership Act

My question:

If the spring $1.58 million override for Newburyport’s schools does pass, what would be the next thing folks would advocate for?

If the spring $1.58 million override for Newburyport’s schools does not pass, what would be the next thing folks would advocate for?

And that brings me to my mucho research and major learning curve- the governor’s Municipal Partnership Act. (You see I’m trying to do the “unite” folks thing here.)

“Gov. Patrick called the soaring property tax burden in Massachusetts “a crisis,” and said cities and towns desperately need the ability to broaden their revenue options and reduce reliance on the property tax. He said his proposal would provide “real property tax relief.” ”
Massachusetts Municipal Association (www.mma.org) April 10, 2007

* Opening the state Group Insurance Commission to municipal workers, thereby saving money on health-insurance premiums.

* Realizing better investment returns for retirees’ pensions and lowering the administrative costs of managing the local pension funds.

* Allowing cities and towns to vote on a 1 or 2 percent tax on meals and hotels. 25 cents of every dollar generated by this option would go directly to property tax relief for seniors.

* Updating a century-old provision that exempts telecommunications companies from paying property taxes on their poles.”
www.patricdeval.com

For the entire explanation please press here.

Folks in opposition to the Municipal Partnership Act:

“The plan is to impose a new tax to take care of that pesky old tax.”
blog.worcestercountyrepublicanclub.com, February 27th, 2007

And to deal aggressively with unions:

“The increase is driven mostly by exploding increases in health insurance and retirement costs taxpayers pay for our union town employees – our policemen, firemen, and teachers. This is because public workers pay as little as 10 percent towards their own health and retirement benefits – taxpayers pay the rest. Citizens in the private sector generally pay a much higher percent of their own health and retirement benefits – and many are lucky to have these benefits at all…

What can you do to make the new contracts fairer for taxpayers?

…demand that taxpayers be relieved from paying such a high and unfair percentage of the health and retirement benefits in the new union contracts…”
blog.worcestercountyrepublicanclub.com, February 28, 2007

So, depending on your point of view, there does appear to be ways that folks could advocate for control on local spending and relief from local property taxes, all of which have nothing to do with a local override, which appears to me to be polarizing the community of Newburyport, MA.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Floods, Damage and Safety

Floods. Damage to local businesses and homes. Fear for school safety. Tragedy and the power of Mother Nature put so many things in perspective.

When I get all in a bother about something, I ask myself, “How important is it really?” And when compared to severe tide surges and school tragedy, the answer often is, “it’s really not as important as it seemed a little while ago.”

And then I make myself a gratitude list (Pollyanna that I may be) and that really puts things in perspective.

What am I grateful for concerning Newburyport, MA? The people that live and work here (whether I agree with them on civic issues or not). The great beauty of this place and the historic parts of it, whether they are large or small, important or less important. (And a whole lot of personal gratefulness as well).

And I’m looking forward to what I call my “sanity walk,” where I walk around Newburyport, MA and meet and talk to all sorts of folks. Amble around our astoundingly beautiful neighborhoods, wander down to the mouth of the Merrimac River. And today I’ll listen for the surf again. Yesterday I could hear it all the way from the South End of Newburyport, MA.

And when I come back from my walk, I’ll sit down with a cup of tea and take another look at the paintings on my studio wall, and hopefully know which painting to work on next.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Political Timing

Since my involvement as an activist in the fight to save High Street, I’ve become aware that there appears to be a rhythm in public interest in any one particular issue. An ebb and flow if you will.

I can remember when High Street seemed to continually make the front page of the local media outlets. And then there would be a time, when no matter what people did, no one appeared to be interested in the issue at all.

But in its own time, the subject once again made front page news. The interest in the issue seemed to have a life of its own, and there appeared that there could be no way to control it.

This can be both puzzling and frustrating for someone who is advocating for a particular cause.

For the last few weeks the $1.58 million override for the Newburyport schools appears to have been the dominant topic. I would imagine that until the May 22, 2007 special spring election for the Newburyport schools takes place, the $1.58 million override would remain in the forefront of people’s minds. However, even that matter is beginning to faded somewhat from the collective consciousness.

The ordinance concerning the balance of chain stores and smaller entrepreneurial endeavors has appeared to have ignited local attention, at least for the time being.

People who are advocating to save the Wheelwright property have expressed their frustrations to me, that no matter what they might do, they are having very little success at the moment at getting people to pay attention to that issue at all.

I explain that it is all about timing. And part of good political activism is putting one’s ear to the ground and listening for the time when folks would once again be interested in a specific concern.

The same thing appears to apply to the question of a garage. Whether a garage for downtown may or may not be a good idea is almost moot. Folks simply do not seem to be interested in the subject. And since Mayor John Moak was elected in part because people did not want a garage, getting folks to pay attention to that particular matter is proving difficult.

Again it’s a matter of timing. Listening for the right moment. No amount of shouting from the roof tops would make the community listen, not if they are not inclined.

The Newburyport landfill is another example. A nightmare that has been going on for years that effects everyone one way or another in Newburyport, MA. The myriad of problems have not gone away, but the matter has peaks and valleys when it comes down to public attention.

The intricacies of politics have always intrigued me. And since I’ve been blogging, I have found that the nuances of political complexities are yet more intricate and even more fascinating.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Effective Activist Efforts

Watching all the political activity that has been going on in Newburyport, MA lately, I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve been learning what appears to be effective demeanor and conduct as an activist and what might not be.

When Allyson Lawless came before the Newburyport City Council last Monday night, I thought it was a textbook presentation.

I was watching the Newburyport City Council meeting on TV from the comfort of my comfy chair, so this was not an on hand observation. But still, the TV thing works for me.

Ms Lawless appeared out of breath (it appeared the lady in question had been making her way through a packed Newburyport City Council chamber.) She was obviously nervous and took a moment to compose herself.

The Newburyport City Council was addressed with sincere respect.

I have often seen folks come before the Newburyport City Council and various Newburyport boards and committees and open up with something along the lines of “I really appreciate the opportunity of speaking here tonight,” or whatever.

And at times there is a subtle inflection of tone, where the underlining message that comes across is “I’m here tonight because I think you all are idiots (with a possible few exceptions) and I want to persuade you, manipulate you, do anything I can, to make you vote the way I think is the right way for you to vote.”

It’s a very subtle thing, but Ms Lawless, in my opinion, nailed it.

And the subject that Ms Lawless was bringing forth was the ordinance regulating chain stores in Newburyport, MA, which, I suppose, has the potential of being an emotionally charged issue.

The impression Ms Lawless gave (at least from my comfy seat) was that there was no ultimatum here. Hopefully this was the beginning of a discussion and a dialogue on how downtown Newburyport, MA might find an appropriate balance between local entrepreneurs and larger establishments.

With an introductory discussion taking place this Wednesday night at 6:30 at Newburyport City Hall, one hopes that very reasonable and reasoned tone could continue.

And reading today’s Newburyport Daily News, April 17, 2007 on Dr. Robert Wilkins, the activist who helped save downtown Newburyport, MA, there was this wonderful quote which refers to his “kind heart, love of humanity and community, incredible resilience and good nature.”

And maybe that is the key to being a good activist (and Dr. Wilkins was certainly the example of the ultimate Newburyport activist), a kind heart and a genuine love of the community of Newburyport, MA.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

(Editor’s Note: At this point the Newburyport Blog, a local blog, only has national advertising. This is an irony that is by no means lost on the editor of the Newburyport Blog.)

Newburyport, Reforms that Would Save Money

It appears to me that Newburyport, MA is hardly alone in its financial “crisis.” Whether it applies to the Newburyport schools, or all the other myriad of financial issues.

It appears that Mayor John Moak could be seriously thinking of asking the people of Newburyport, MA to pay for those extra financial items (2 to 4 million according to the Newburyport Daily News, April 13, 2007), by possibly putting another vote for tax increases on the November ballot (in addition to the spring override for the Newburyport schools, $1.58 million).

In the Boston Globe, April 1, 2007 there is an article by John C. Drake called “50 towns tackle property tax hikes, Walpole says no; Scituate vote is split.” And at the end of that article there is this quote:

“Barbara Anderson , executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and one of the state’s leading proponents of Proposition 2 1/2, said towns seeking state tax reform are doing themselves a disservice by depending on overrides.

“It’s so much easier to put an override on the ballot and whine about the fact there’s not enough local aid, instead of fighting for reforms that will in the long run save the money,” she said.”

I would love to see all the energy presently directed at the override for Newburyport’s schools (for and against) and all the people that have been newly engaged in the political process, directed towards long term solutions. Fighting for “reforms” would seem like a long term solution to me.

I had never heard of Barbara Anderson, but in the small amount of research that I’ve done, Barbara Anderson is big stuff.

I have no idea what “reforms” Barbara Anderson could be referring to, but I would love to know.

If any of the readers of the Newburyport Blog do know, I am looking for information and education on this subject, for myself and to pass on that information and education to the readers of the Newburyport Blog.

And if you would be able to help, please email me. And also please include specific sources where I can verify the information. I’m looking for good solid facts, not opinion.

Thanks so much,
Mary Eaton
Editor of the Newburyport Blog

Newburyport, Override Politics

My experience is that in politics as an election gets closer, people forget nuance, people forget logical thought process. It almost always comes down to an emotional, two or three sentence, gut level response.

And in politics folks are basically trying to “sell” you their point of view.

Think about something as benign as juice drinks. Do you think about the nuance of why one juice drink might be better than the other? No. You think about which juice drink stinks, and which juice drink will “change your life.” (Slight exaggeration.)

Would political issues be any different? Personally I don’t think so.

Remember that famous political phrase, “It’s the economy stupid.” Another words, vote for the other guy and your future will go down the drain. And it worked.

There are many thoughtful folks on either side of the override issue (the Spring override for the $1.58 Million for the Newburyport Schools) and well thought out reasoning on both sides as to why the override should or should not be voted for.

But I think basically it’s going to come down this:

1) If you vote against the override, you don’t care about the children. It’s for the kids. Our children are our future. You will force young families to leave Newburyport, MA in droves and Newburyport will no longer be a vibrant city.

Or

2) If you vote for the override you will force the elderly and the lower and middle class folks who are just getting by out of their homes and destroy their lives. Newburyport will become a place that only the wealthy can afford.

And both sides would scream that I am absolutely wrong, that I could not possibly be right. But you know in your heart of hearts that I most probably am. (If you haven’t already, keep an eye on those Letters to the Editor. They have and would most likely aim for right for the gut.)

And also, I think it often comes down to which side folks feel has the most integrity. Who do you like? Who do you trust?

Small slips, much less big slips can turn a campaign in a completely different/wrong direction. Once that happens, it’s very hard to recover.

It’s like going to a restaurant. One bad meal, and unless there is incredible loyalty, most folks don’t go back.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Reasons to Move to Newburyport, MA

When I moved here in 1981 (I was 29… Oh, to be 29 again…) it didn’t take much of a gander at Newburyport, MA to know that if “excellent” schools were at the top of my list of “must haves,” that Newburyport, MA was not the place to move to.

If a really good school system was at the top of my list, I would have considered moving to places like Hamilton, Wenham or Wellesley, wealthy suburban communities.

But I didn’t want to live in a “wealthy suburban” community. I wanted to live in this wonderful small seacoast city, that was actually a city, not a suburb. That was a short drive from miles of gorgeous beach along the Atlantic Ocean. And that had an historic quality that was just downright captivating. And I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

And I still think that today.

And this was before Maudslay or the Tannery ever existed.

Many of my friends and acquaintances home schooled (home schooling was very big back then) and many took advantage of the many first rate private schools in the area on all grade levels. I never expected the Newburyport public schools to be “excellent.”

When the bambino arrived I thought long and hard about my options. And I made a very conscious choice to choose Newburyport’s public schools.

An “excellent” education was not at the top of my list. “Life lessons” were. And I decided that life lessons for my child would be best learned in the Newburyport Public Schools, which I rated anywhere from a C+ to a B+. Certainly not an A+ or even an A-.

And I also felt that Newburyport as a community had so much to offer (which is one of the reasons why I chose it) from the Pioneer League, to the Newburyport Art Association, to Theater in the Open etc. etc. etc., that whatever deficiencies the Newburyport school system might have, the City of Newburyport offered a wealth of tangible and intangible gifts that would last in my son’s soul far longer than what he might find in a traditional educational system.

In my mind, the many assets that Newburyport has to offer contributed to my son’s acquisition of knowledge.

And I found my to my surprise that this was confirmed in an article linked to by the “yesfornewburyport.org” website, “Buyers will pay a premium to live near top schools.” (April 11, 2007).

“School, what is it good for? When it comes to home prices, school matters. Buyers will pay a premium to live near top schools.”
By Sarah Max, senior writer

“Not true everywhere

Of course, not everyone has school on the brain.

According to an NAR (National Association of Realtors) survey of buyers in 2003, 25 percent of buyers in the suburbs cited schools as an important factor in their buying decision. But in urban areas, only 12 percent of buyers ranked schools high on their list of priorities. Shopping, recreation and entertainment proved more important. In resort areas, meanwhile, only 8 percent of buyers ranked schools high on their list.

“There are only two places we have found school values going out the window,” said Bainbridge. One is beach property and the other is what he calls “historically preserved areas,” urban areas that are being redeveloped.”
CNN/Money, August 30, 2004

So it is quite possible that historic preservation and gorgeous beaches might be part of the reason that Newburyport, MA has become so desirable. And that the Newburyport school system could be part of a larger equation.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Historic Preservation

Could it be possible to transition back to the topic of “historic preservation?” To change the subject from “schools, schools, schools” and a possible running commentary on how we as a community are now going to tear each other to shreds, to a more uniting subject? Wouldn’t that be refreshing.

The frogs say they are sick of hearing about school stuff (and so, by the way, I gather, are many readers of the Newburyport Blog.)

I asked George Cushing, of Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall, the political consultant to the Newburyport Blog, what could be a more uplifting and unifying subject, that I the editor of the Newburyport Blog might blog about.

George (predictably) suggests the subject of our historic heritage and our historic assets, something, surely all of Newburyport, MA could agree upon.

Ok, George, get real, we’ve come along way in realizing that our historic assets are in trouble to the point where we have a committee that would explore the possibility of maybe, kind of a largish Local Historic District, (which used to be a bad, bad word) might be possible. And “Local Historic District” is getting to be less of a bad, bad word, but I would hardly call it a word that exactly inspires a “love fest,” yet.

George has just given me a “give me a break” look. Whatever.

What about the Preservation Awards from the City of Newburyport, MA? The only preservation award I blogged about was Newburyport City Hall. What about all those other deserving folk? That was way back February 8, 2007. Certainly got waylaid by all this school stuff, right?

Good point George.

Maybe one of the nicest things about the preservation awards, was an emphasis on your not spectacularly obvious historic properties. (Often folks define historic properties by the fact that George Washington or whoever important slept there, so of course the place has to be historic and probably is the only reason it could possibly be historic.)

Probably no one fancy, smancy lived, slept, ate, whatever at 7 Prospect Street, 323 Merrimac Street or 11 Smith Street (all of which got awards), but they still add to the very important historic and economic value of Newburyport, MA.

SmithStreet.jpg
11 Smith Street
Image courtesy of the City of Newburyport
and Steven Rudolph of the
Newburyport Preservation Trust

Carol Herzog made restorations to 11 Smith Street. The restoration included window replacement and chimney reconstruction as well as “meticulous attention to detail and superb craftsmanship throughout the house.” (Newburyport Historic Commission, February 8, 2007)

Wow! Pretty cool.

So thanks George. It feels good to blog on historic preservation again. I think I’ll go for a walk now and admire all those historic assets that mean so much to the city of Newburyport, MA. And I’m going to take yet another gander at 11 Smith Street which has always been one of my favorites. So a very big thank you to Carol Herzog and to all the other folks that have contributed meaningfully to historic properties in this fair city.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Property Values and Consequences

When I moved here in 1981, I bought my 1890 house for $74,000. I was upset because the people who sold it to me had bought if for $34,000 the year before. Eat your heart out. (Ok, interest rates were off the charts high, but still, that’s quite a price.)

I fixed my house up and seven years later ended up selling it, for what back then was a tidy profit.

Were my neighbors pleased? No.

My neighbors had roots. They planned to live here till “death do us part,” and then pass their homes onto their children.

What I did for my neighbors was make their property taxes go way up, and made it more difficult for them and their children to live in Newburyport, MA.

Flip forward to 1996. After some very difficult years, housing prices in Newburyport, MA start to go up again. No one in their wildest dreams thought any house in Newburyport, MA would ever sell for $400,000, much less more than $400,000.

And now, flip forward to 2005. Housing prices have skyrocketed. There are million dollar houses plus for sale and selling. And a new influx of people who can afford “unbelievably expensive homes” have moved into Newburyport, MA.

What happens, yup, property taxes go sky high, making it really difficult for folks with “roots” to live here. And making it almost impossible for their children and grandchildren to live here as well.

Are they happy? No. (Can you blame them?)

And then, to add insult to injury, it is perceived that the prosperous young families who have paid “astronomical” prices, want to further raise taxes, so that their children could have a better education.

As they say New York City, “forgetta about it.”

From the people who have the “roots” point of view, this is one explosive mixture.

And I would imagine that from the viewpoint of the young families who have moved here and paid those “astronomical” prices, they would like a school system worthy of what they paid for their homes.

My. Two very different and disparaging points of view.

How this would all play out? We will all see. But it certainly has the making of some Newburyport drama. Is this an understatement or what? George Cushing, of Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall, the political consultant to the Newburyport Blog and the other frogs seem to think so too. (But then again, you have to remember, that some of those frogs just love drama.)

Actually, what the frogs croaked to me as we watched the Newburyport City Council on TV last night, after the spring election for an override for $1.58 million was voted in (can you picture it, me with four frogs lined up next to me) was, “Let the games begin.”

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Override Backlash

My guess would be, that now that it appears that a vote to vote for a special spring election for an $1.58 Million override for the Newburyport Schools would most likely pass (see previous posts) at tonight’s Newburyport City Council meeting, we as a community may well begin to see an “override backlash.”

In fact, putting a political ear to the proverbial ground, one can almost hear the waves pulling back into the ocean for one tsunamis of an override backlash.

Asking people to increase taxes for anything is not an “issue” so much as a “political process.” It often comes down to not whether an issue is worthy or not, but whether political waters are successfully navigated.

When Mayor Lisa Mead took office, officially ushering in the new era of the “newcomer” in power, there was one heck of a backlash. And it was relentless. More like a backlash tsunamis combined with an ongoing backlash hurricane.

One thing that happened as I recall, was that Newburyport City Hall unionized. One could say that it was in response to all kinds of things, but I think basically it came down to 2 things, my father’s 2 succinct phrases (see previous posts). Folks were afraid that in this “new era” they would “lose their town.” And that this “new era” would destroy the soul of the city.

As anyone who was part of the “new era” could tell you, being part of that “new era” was not fun. They call Newburyport “cannibal city” for a reason. And I’ve always said that politics in Newburyport, MA is a “contact sport” and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Maybe it is why I so wanted the Newburyport School Committee and the supporters of the override, to wait. Get all ducks in a row. Think “Newburyport political.” Because even if the parents and the Newburyport School Committee win the special election, the backlash could well be unrelenting. They may have “won the battle,” but an unrelenting override backlash may well feel like “losing the war.”

And it remains to be seen how the pro-override folks could take this backlash. It won’t be pretty. Would they decide to pack up and leave (wouldn’t be the first folks to do that)? Or would there be a determination to be committed to the city of Newburyport, MA, a decision to put down permanent roots?

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Losing Our Town

My Dad is 89, lives on his own in New York City, goes to work everyday and is one smart cookie. He also loves politics. On the political thing, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

I wanted his opinion on the hostility over the whole issue of the override for our Newburyport Schools.

The parent side was easy. The parents care about their children and want them to have a good education. Good schools are a good community investment. (My own feeling too, is the decibel sound may be so loud, at least to my ears, because parents may feel that up to this point, no one has been listening. “Bingo”??)

But how to articulate what the folks against the override feel? And my Dad, smart cookie that he is, had this to say… they feel like the override folks are going to “take over.” They feel like “they are going to lose their town.” A definite “Bingo” in my book.

And yes, I’ve been wandering around town on my walks and talking to folks, and what people say to me boils down to my father’s 2 succinct phrases.

What I hear is that, the folks (for the most part) who are pushing for an override do not have roots here. Their kids may not stay in the system. And they may not stay here at all.

The folks pushing for the override don’t see the big financial picture. All of Newburyport is in a fiscal crisis, just not the schools.

And yes, there are definitely already people on the financial edge, not only “seniors” but folks who moved here in the 70′s and early 80′s and, who in many instances, are not in high paying jobs.

That taxes would become so high, that people not only would want to move, but they might not be able to move, because no one would want to move into a town that would be so unaffordable, especially in an economic downturn.

That a place like Salisbury is becoming the “it” town, because compared to Newburyport, a middle income family could afford to live there.

And that by driving out the people who “made” this town, the soul of the city would be lost.

That for years, the children of the people who live in Newburyport, have not been able to afford to live here, and that trend would only escalate. (One of the things that Gardiner Bacon told me was that he was running for mayor now, because once he goes off to college, he would never be able to afford to live in Newburyport, MA again.)

All of that is of course a much more “tactful” version than what I was actually hearing.

My father, good Liberal Democrat that he is, was all for education, and pointed out that there’s “no free lunch.” His solution, which was very much like the solution by a gentleman in a Letter to the Editor in today’s Newburyport Daily News, was to raise state taxes, and then the state would have enough money to pass onto local cities and towns.

He was not optimistic that we would see any money for our fiscal woes any time soon from the Feds.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Multiple Overrides

One of my questions is, is this the only override that the Newburyport School Committee would be asking for, or is this the start of a series of overrides that the citizens of Newburyport, MA would be asked to vote for?

The answer appears to be that this would be just the beginning of override requests for the Newburyport Schools.

The information on this question of mine came from the website of “Yes for Newburyport,” A pro-override group of concerned citizens who would like to improve the quality of public education in Newburyport, MA.

To quote from the website of “yesfornewburyport.org”:

“…the dire financial climate indicates that Newburyport has several overrides in its immediate future.”

The website elaborates:

“Newburyport Schools operating costs have been increasing at about 6% per year, which is typical of many school districts across the state. Cost increases are due to standard inflationary forces, including increased salaries and energy costs.

In addition, the city’s revenue is down and its costs are up. In fact, the city’s FY2008 health care cost increases alone almost completely consume its property tax revenue increase. As a result, all departments in the city are facing level funding and even declining funding for FY2008, including the schools. The School’s FY2008 expense is expected to increase at 5.8%, assuming the District continues to operate as it did in FY2007.”

“The financial outlook for Newburyport’s schools does not improve in the next several years. The current economic stagnation of the State, and the shortage of new growth within Newburyport, both indicate that State and Local revenues will remain close to level over the next two to three years. Meanwhile the District’s costs will continue to increase at roughly the same rate as in the past, probably in the range of 5% to 6% per year.

To overcome this financial hurdle, the School District must work to increase revenue. Cost reduction is not the answer. It is likely that after the dust settles on the FY2008 budget, there will be absolutely nothing left to cut without a dramatic impact on student achievement. The only answer left is to increase revenue. Some of the new revenue must come from overrides.”

The website does go on to say in bold letters:

“But, more importantly, the District needs to work with the City’s leaders and citizens to plan and execute a future for Newburyport that can naturally afford an excellent school system without having annual overrides.” Amen to that.

What I would like to see the pro-override folks do is come up with that plan now. No easy feat. However, if we have a leader as creative as Superintendent Kevin Lyons who comes up with incredibly problem solving solutions to seemingly impossible dilemmas, then maybe there is someone out there who can come up with equal problem solving solutions, so that no one would ever think of asking the citizens of Newburyport, MA for multiple overrides for the Newburyport City Schools.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

(Editor’s Note: The quotations above were taken from the website of “yesfornewburyport.org” on April 4, 2007. The website “yesfornewburyport.org” has since been added to, amended and “tweaked.”)

Override Friction in Newburyport, MA

As I understand it, basically whether or not the city of Newburyport, MA has a special election for a $1.58 million override comes down to a decision by the mayor. To quote from the Newburyport Daily News, April 4, 2007, “Mayor John Moak has pledged to find the money in the current budget to fund it (the election for the $1.58 million override).”

That money was awfully hard to find a couple of weeks ago.

I would say that the pressure must have been pretty intense for Mayor John Moak to be willing to come up with $17,000 for a special spring election.

During last Monday’s Newburyport City Council Meeting both Steven Hutcheson and James Shanley stated that they did not want to write a blank check to the Newburyport School Committee, they wanted to know exactly how the money would be spent, they wanted to hear the report from the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA). And I imagine they also would have liked a vote on Superintendent Kevin Lyons’ school reconfiguring plan.

All of that took place, and it appears that the two Newburyport City Councilors kept their word.

The other Newburyport City Councilors against the Newburyport School Committee override, stated that they thought, given the unfortunate fiscal state of the city of Newburyport, MA, and the already existing high taxes, that it would be a mistake to have a permanent tax hike. That’s 5 City Councilors.

I would bet my bottom dollar that no one in city government, the Newburyport City Councilors or Mayor John Moak, has enjoyed this process in the least. It has been a nightmare.

And with the mayor of Newburyport, MA coming up with the funds, unless someone changes their mind, the vote to let people vote will pass, with a narrow margin.

And the tension in the city of Newburyport, MA hasn’t lessened. The tension in the city of Newburyport, MA has gone way up. And I don’t imagine that the friction will go down any time in the foreseeable future, which is really unfortunate.

It feels as if the city of Newburyport is at one of these awful growing pains, crossroads again. The ill feeling that is here now reminds me of the kind of tension that existed when Mayor Lisa Mead took office for the first time. And a huge “us vs. them” hostility that had been simmering for a long time, came up to the surface.

I’ll have to think on this one. But it feels like the hostility around the override is an indication of something more significant that is happening in the city of Newburyport, MA.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Election for School Override

It looks to me as if the special election for the spring override for the Newburyport schools could be a go.

Last night the Newburyport School Committee answered many of the Newburyport City Council’s questions.

1) The Newburyport School Committee voted for Superintendent’s Kevin Lyons’ reconfiguration plan.

2) The Newburyport School Committee voted on what exactly would be in the override. (Please see Editor’s Note)

3) According to the Newburyport Daily News April 3, 2007, the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability “told the committee that the district’s performance is disappointing, and in several cases is in violation of state law.” Not a good report.

And it appears that the city of Newburyport might now pay for the special election. The money would come out of the city’s coffers and not the Newburyport School Committee’s coffer’s. Therefore a transfer would not be necessary.

If a transfer was necessary, the special election would need 8 votes to occur.

With the money possibly coming out of the city’s coffer’s, the special election would only need 6 votes to take place.

And it is my understanding that at least a couple of the Newburyport City Councilors were satisfied after last night’s Newburyport School Committee meeting. The Newburyport School Committee may have the 6 votes needed to have the spring special election happen.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

(Editor’s Note: Press here to see the items that Newburyport School Committee voted in for the proposed $1.58M Override.)