Pepperell's vote for a 2 1/2 proposed override for a new $38 million plus safety complex couldn't arrive at a worse financial time. There is no doubt that Pepperell police and fire department need and deserve better facilities, but I believe the planning for this facility was irresponsible in not considering the devastating financial impacts of the cost of this proposed safety complex on our citizens. The Town Administrator believes Pepperell citizens can afford this and more capital projects. I do not. We need a more affordable safety building plan to consider. Unfortunately, tax payers face the unavoidable challenge of the twenty three million dollar expense of water treatment and water supply costs due to our PFAS pollution needs. We also have unknown future cost of cleaning up our PFAS soil polluted site on Jersey St. And our school district asks for a budget debt exclusion of $700,000, all together creating a heavy lift of tax increases. We will need to raise property taxes to meet a new debt amount of around sixty two million dollars.
The annual tax increase for the average $400,000 home will be:
School Budget Override. $159
Water Treatment and supply. $311
Safety Complex. $512
Total increase $982
Can Pepperell families bear this tax increase? Some families can afford it........too many cannot and they will either be forced into property tax delinquency, making difficult trade-offs between medication, heat, and food needs, or loss of their homes. There are multiple longterm consequences of such a large debt load on our citizens. In the current absence of sufficient affordable housing in town, Pepperell will take another step toward sacrificing its socio-economic diversity forcing moderate and low income families out and moving toward a more up scale, affluent community.
In my lifetime experience Pepperell has taken pride in being a blue collar, small, tightly knit, friendly community. We are now challenged by ideas promoting rural Pepperell to give up it's farm roots to become a suburban, affluent community. This very expensive safety complex, in my opinion, is based on the belief among community leaders have that residents either can or should be able to afford such an expensive project. and if you can't afford it you shouldn't live here. It would have been far wiser and fair to consider what tax payers can reasonably afford for a new safety complex and advising the designers of our cost limits.
I believe the current cumulative budget needs far exceeds our families ability to pay without significant tragic consequences to long-term residents and young working families with limited ability to keep up with sharply rising utility and property tax bills. I had hoped our Financial Advisory Committee would have advised us on the consequences of such a sudden increase in our debt obligations. To my knowledge, we haven't estimated the number of home owners who struggle with their property tax bills and estimated the likely increase in the default rate given these proposed costs. We know we have a substantial population that live near or below the poverty line in Pepperell. I also worry that, in addition to this debt load driving up tax delinquency, we could end up defaulting on our debt with a disastrous loss of our town credit rating.
Further, I believe it is reasonable to anticipate that future capital expenditure needs will be beyond consideration for decades to come. Proposal of this safety complex begs the question of our community leaders strategizing to counter our rural quality wishes and create debt that requires a build out of Pepperell in the pursuit of becoming a more affluent town with higher property tax income.
Further, town officials appear to be limiting public information on the cost of the proposed Safety Complex, with the absence of a citizens engagement night program, limited Town web site information and misleading town signage. ("Special Town Election" rather than "38 million expenditure").
I urge you to honor your support for our emergency services thru another and immediate design effort and vote NO to a 2 1/2 override to build this Safety Complex.