I attended the Lynnfield Finance Committee meeting on Monday evening, Aug. 19 where the key topic was a request from the Friends of Lynnfield Rail Trail for a Special Town Meeting.
The petition article stated they are requesting $348,000 from the town budget for the final stage of the Wakefield-Lynnfield Trail’s design and for any other costs associated with the trail.
Several things that transpired during the Friends presentation and FinCom Committee member responses struck me as overwhelmingly objectionable.
First and foremost, we were told at the April 2017 Town Meeting that the Trail would be built at no cost to the Lynnfield taxpayers, and they were confident that a combination of fundraising, donations and state funds would cover the final design of the trail.
If taxpayers had known that they were going to be asking for $348,000, the vote would likely have been against the trail. Now they are asking for those funds from an account that only requires a simple majority vote rather than the usual two-thirds vote.
Secondly, upon my presentation and review of the town’s budget to the Committee in light of the funding request, I was shocked that not one member questioned or acknowledged that there were several unapproved budget requests with the current Fiscal Year 2020 Capital budget — let alone why, in the face of these budget requests, the Committee was considering funding a non-critical, non-departmental cost while other Town budget priorities were denied.
One only need view the FY2020 Capital Budget on the Town’s website to see that over $3 million of needed funding was requested by our town’s most critical departmental heads, and less than $1 million of funding was approved by FinCom.
The Fire Department asked for a new fire truck along with emergency medical services utility trucks and other needed fire safety equipment. Our schools requested funding for specific structural and high cost maintenance repairs. Public Works Department requested more than $1.3 million of funding for the repairs of town sidewalks, roads and critical drainage repairs. A mere $220,000 was approved.
Furthermore, in a recent Itemlive.com interview, Superintendent Jane Tremblay discussed her concerns over the apparent rise in future student enrollment into Lynnfield schools — more than 100 new enrollments over the next few years. This means expanding classroom capacity, new teachers and added supplies.
In viewing the town’s five-year budget projection through 2022, one sees a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.1 million over the next two years. Where will these funds come from? I felt as though my concerns as a taxpayer fell on completely unsympathetic and deaf ears.
And yet, I heard FinCom members discuss how there’s “plenty of excess cash in the Town’s accounts” to handle the Trail funding request (“well in excess of $1 million will be left over,” I heard one member quip). Hearing this, I paused and thought to myself: why are we not using these “excess” funds that are so freely lying around to fund our existing town’s critical financial needs?
FinCom members discussed the idea that the trail design funding request of $348,000 was somehow an investment in the Rail Trail “asset” — and so the funding request should be viewed as a return-on-investment decision.
This is a ruse in my opinion and a complete mischaracterization of the concept of return-on-investment. The rail trail is not a town asset. It does not generate any tax revenue for the town (unlike Market Street). It’s a parcel of leased land upon which the state will fund the building of a bike trail. The town will not own the land, nor the trail.
We will never see a return of the $348,000 funding — it’s a “sunk cost” to the town. Taxpayers will be responsible for the future maintenance and upkeep of the trail for the foreseeable future — and any additional (unexpected) costs that may materialize in the future.
The $348,000 is an expense to the town’s taxpayers to fund its design, plain and simple. FinCom blithely voted 8 to 2 to recommend that the taxpayers of Lynnfield should approve trail funding over more important funding for the town’s most important assets — schools, police, fire and highway departments. These are the town’s assets to be investing in — not the trail.