Stoneham Election April 3, 2018 follow up – what I meant by “bankrupt”

In my post on my choices for the upcoming 2018 election (which you can read here) I said the following:

More seriously, she [Caroline Colarusso] has bankrupted our water and sewer system to the point where all our rainy day funds are gone, and you will see a 29% increase in your next bill. That’s an average of $75 a quarter this coming year PLUS we have no money in the rainy day fund now. Caroline led the charge, sending out flyers for the Water and Sewer policy that ran through the savings we’d put aside. She wants to bankrupt our trash system in the same way. (Mark your calendars for the Town Hall Meeting Monday, May 7, where we need to show up and fight this fiscally irresponsible plan.)

Caroline asked to meet with me this weekend, taking umbrage with much of what I wrote, but in particular this section. “There’s $692k in the account! That’s not bankrupt!” She asked how I could justify that statement. Since she’s proposing we make this exact mistake again, in the upcoming trash fee discussion, I thought it was worth discussing at more length.

Question: How can you have money in an account and still be bankrupt?
Answer: When your expenses exceed the amount of money you have to pay for them.

There are three possible amounts of money we should have in our water and sewer reserve fund. Some recommend 10% of costs. Some recommend 15%. Our current stated target is 3 months worth of operating expenses. In 2014, the town had 2.24 million in the reserve fund (3 months). Today we have 692k in the reserve fund (~6%). If a 30% rate increase had not been approved for the next bill you will get, dear taxpayer, that sum would be $0, or negative. Zero percent. The difference was the initiative led by Caroline to drain our reserves for a temporary rate cut.

Perhaps you think it’s not important to have this money set aside in the reserve fund, but please note that this is the money that is used to pay for water main breaks. We have had numerous such breaks in the past years, and it would be surprising if we went for a long time without having more. If all of a sudden North Street is flooded, do you want to hear that we have no money set aside to fix it? What if it’s a sewer main, spilling literal crap into our streets?

There was not enough money in the bank this quarter to pay our bills without either using the very last drops of our reserve fund, or raising rates. If we completely wiped out our reserve fund this quarter, those big rate increases would still come next quarter. And we’d be hosting bake sales to pay for water main breaks.

I’d love to direct you to the links on the Town of Stoneham website that include all the agendas and supporting details on this. By law, those documents are required to be available. However, despite the fact I could have sworn they were available previously, they are no longer there. I had to ask Selectman Anthony Wilson to help me find the information. I’m attaching my sources to this post, and invite correction or (better yet) for correct data to be posted to the town website by the appropriate authorities.

Water and Sewer projections from 2017 (which are very close to actuals)
Water and Sewer retained earnings (reserve fund)
Slides showing how the previous rate cut impacted our reserve

Water and Sewer was clearly bankrupt because without a 30% increase, there was not enough money to pay the bills. And Caroline is advocating that we do it again, this time with our trash services. Let’s at least be smart enough to learn from our mistakes.

Brenda’s Stoneham Selectman Voter’s Guide April 7, 2015

On Tuesday, April 7th 2015, Stoneham Voters will head to the ballots to select our town’s leaders. If my engagement with the Bikeway has shown anything, it’s shown how critical great town leadership is to improve the experience of living here.

[10/18/2016 10:11 pm: If you have found this site in your quest to make up your mind about which is a better candidate for State Representative, Mike Day or Caroline Colarusso, I strongly endorse Mike Day – both because of his excellent track record of making positive contributions to the local community in his first term, and because of the negativity and nastiness Caroline has brought to this campaign.]

[3/26/2015 10:39 pm: Edited to remove “pros” from Caroline Colarusso that are also shared by Erin Sinclair – see comments for details.]

Recommendations

Town Moderator: Lawrence (Larry) Means

Stoneham Selectman (2 slots):
1) Thomas Boussy
2) Caroline Calorusso

No recommendation (advise me!):
– Constable
– Housing Authority
– Planning Board

One of the great challenges I’ve realized lately is how hard it is to get information and form an informed opinion on local politics. There’s very little easily available information. If you don’t know where to go for what information there is, the problem is worse. This means that new folks to town, or people who aren’t amazingly well connected, either don’t vote, or don’t cast a knowledgeable vote on the election that may have the most impact on how they live. Will the town have a bikeway, or not? Will we bring more people to our downtown, or not? Do we build affordable housing, or do we lose some of our autonomy and have state oversight to guarantee we have affordable housing? How do we balance our tax base, infrastructure needs, education spending and other services? It’s local officials who decide those key issues.

I had tried to figure out how I’m voting in this upcoming election. The Selectman’s race is particularly a difficult one for me. I’ve had some personal conversations with some folks in Stoneham about who they’re voting for, and why. I should mention that my thoughts below are my private opinion, and not as well informed as I’d like it to be. I’m certainly open to corrections, amendments or additional thoughts from you – or the candidates – about the elements I’m thinking about. I really wish there were an independent, clear, easily accessible voter’s guide for Stoneham voters. As far as I know, that doesn’t exist. This isn’t that – this is my opinion.

The selectman’s race was one I thought a lot about. It’s a crappy job. It pays something like $3000 a year, requires considerable time and effort, and brings with it a ton of aggravation and abuse. One has to think through the motivations for why you’d do it. Idealism? Service? Love of power? Love of attention? Desire to change the town? Desire to help your friends? Family habit? Greater political ambitions?

Tom Boussy
Tom is the one candidate for Selectman I feel I can wholeheartedly endorse. Tom worked very hard on the Bikeway (before we brought 800 people to a town meeting to forcefully exert the will of the people). He’s energetic and enthusiastic about making the town a more awesome place to live. Tom and Anne Marie O’Neill represent the forward-thinking contingent of the selectmen (you know – the ones who DIDN’T vote against the Bikeway in the October meeting.) I feel like his motivations have to do with an energetic enthusiasm for the town.

The second selectman vote has been hard hard hard for me to decide. Frankly, I don’t like any of my option. There was a second vote (Devon Manchester) whom I was excited about. I heard (admitted hearsay!) that he withdrew because the State Republican Party told him if he opposed Caroline Colarusso they’d never support him again. I resent having my choices limited for me like that.

Robert Sweeney
I quickly ruled out Bob Sweeney as a choice. He’s definitely been one of the folks who has never taken a public stand against the bikeway, but quietly worked to make sure it didn’t happen. (Someone had to be working hard to make sure it didn’t happen!) He has been dismissive of other voices in the community, and has a tendency not to show up for his duties. He didn’t even show up for the televised Candidate Forum. No, thank you.

So now I’m down to two, and I have a number of pros and cons for each.

Caroline Colarusso
Pros:
– Spent time on the finance board, which is another thankless task

Neutral:
– Given the number of elections, it’s clear that she sees selectwoman as a step on a larger political path. On one hand, that means she’ll be posturing to make herself look good for the next run. On the other hand, it gives her a motivation to show up and do work.

Negative:
– I dislike that (assuming what I heard is correct) she used her position with the state party to remove competition in the race
– I am not sure she’ll be a strong advocate for new residents in Stoneham
– She keeps talking about taxes instead of services or growth

Erin Sinclair
Pros:
– Not an incumbent

Negative:
– She’s Bob Sweeney’s daughter, and if they’re both elected we’ll need to get a nepotism allowance for her to serve [ed. 3/26 see her note in the comment regarding this]. I don’t actually think the town needs MORE nepotism.
– She’s also a salaried town employee. That seems like a conflict of interests that would require special handling.
– When I asked what she’d done for the bikeway, she said that she was a “private citizen” and therefore hadn’t done anything. I am also a private citizen and I did do something, so I’m not super impressed with that answer. You can see my question and her response on her Facebook page.

Larry Means – Town Moderator
From what I’ve seen, Larry has done a good job in a very thankless job. His opponent has a platform of making passive aggressive jabs at Larry, and then not showing up for voter information forums. Not impressive. So I’m ready to vote for Larry!


So that’s what I’m thinking. I’d love your feedback. Who are you thinking of? Why? What did I get wrong? What resources did I miss that a Stonehamite should know about? How are you making your decision? Who do you recommend for the races I don’t have an opinion on?

Resources:
– Here’s a copy of the ballot for April 7th: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/sites/stonehamma/files/file/file/april_7_annual_election_ballot_proof.pdf
– A number of the candidates did an hour long interview with Stoneham TV. Not mind blowing, but it gives you a good perspective on how they think on their feet (and who cares enough to show up): http://stonehamtv.org/ondemand