SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 6, 2013

Balancing taxes, growth

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

— Those opposed to the Brimbal Avenue project in North Beverly were cheered this week by the news that the matter will be the subject of a referendum election Feb. 8. On the other hand, property owners in general received a jolt in the form of a council vote increasing property taxes by 3.9 percent, bolstering the case made by outgoing Mayor Bill Scanlon and a majority of councilors that the city needs to expand its tax base.

The tax hike approved Monday amounts to $216 for the owner of a home with an average valuation of $408,310. Scanlon has long argued that the current mix of residential and commercial property, even with the revenue generated by the Cummings Center, cannot sustain the level of services residents have come to expect and at the same time fund much-needed improvements to facilities such as the middle school and police and fire stations.

The work being contemplated for the intersection of Brimbal Avenue and Route 128 would open a large area, currently occupied by vacant land including the former city dump, to future development, which the administration claims could generate up to $8 million a year in new tax revenue. A very active coalition of neighborhood groups may have a hard time convincing those in more far-flung parts of the city that it’s better to allow this land to lie fallow and pony up an extra $200 or so in taxes every year.

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On the other hand, some of these road fixes, like the one at Route 128 and Elliott Street in Danvers, don’t work quite as planned.

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There was some grousing about the Beverly council’s decision to have all voting for the special election take place at the high school rather than the traditional precinct polling places.

But the savings in terms of personnel costs alone argue for this practice, which is being resumed in Danvers after a brief hiatus. Town Manager Wayne Marquis noted that not only does the practice save money, it also avoids confusion among voters, particularly those new to the community, over where to vote.

Indeed, if people can drive across town to patronize their favorite sub shop, they should be able to drive a mile or two to cast their vote at a single polling location a couple of times a year. Besides, we agree with Selectman David Mills, who sees gathering in one place to vote as a way of building community spirit: “It’s like a pancake breakfast without the pancakes.”

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Beverly School Committee President Maria Decker, who lost her Ward 6 seat in last month’s election, has been nominated by Mayor Scanlon to serve on the Planning Board. Her appointment may have to wait until after the first of the year, however, as councilors took no action on that and other personnel measures submitted by the chief executive at their last meeting.

Decker was a close ally of Scanlon during her tenure on the school board, which does not set well with some.

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Leftover cruise note: During a stop in Guatemala, the story was told about a visit several years ago by then-President George W. Bush to a Mayan village whose superstitious residents, while grateful for the agricultural aid he brought with him, detected a dose of bad karma surrounding him. After bidding the president farewell, village elders immediately ordered up a cleansing ceremony.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.