Selectman Hurley’s good idea, Milton’s black holes, and a simple tactic

Commentary by Frank Schroth

At the last meeting of the Board of Selectmen member Hurley had a good idea.

The idea is to take out a $8 million bond to fix Milton’s roads to tackle the problem comprehensively rather than the catch as catch can approach imposed by Chapter 90 funding. Chapter 90 funding is state aid that is earmarked for road maintenance and repair. Milton’s Chapter 90 apportionment  package (see related links)  for 2014 is currently $466,545. That amount does not buy much and will not address the condition of roads here in town which were characterized at the session as “deplorable.”

Hurley’s thought in a nutshell is to take out a bond and bank the Chapter 90 funding into an account that, along with accumulated interest will be used to pay off the bond over time. Hurley noted it would inject $8 million into local economy and address a critical municipal need. Can this be done?

DPW director Joe Lynch appeared a little skeptical but supported looking into it. There are eligibility requirements and who knows what bureaucratic hurdles might lay in wait. But it is a good idea that needs to be aggressively pursued. On the surface of it – it looks like a no brainer as the funds will be used for the purpose for which they are intended; it is only the distribution and payout schedule that is being rejiggered to maximize value. That seems to make sense; but what makes sense and what the state will permit may not be aligned. Regardless, Hurley should be commended for thinking a little out of box and the idea is a great example of the kind of thinking the town needs to address the tremendous challenge of maximizing strained financial resources to meet the long term needs of the town.

One concern we have is that this idea not become one of Milton’s black holes. What is a Milton black hole? It is the void into which town ideas, issues, problems, and initiatives disappear from public view. Two of the larger black holes currently are the town farm and  the development of the Hendries property.

Pulte made the winning bid to develop the town farm. Because it was held in trust it needs to go before the probate court and prior to that the decision of the selectmen needs to be vetted by the Attorney General, which is where it is at the moment and has been for as long as we can remember. Apparently there is an issue with the manner in which Pulte works with and manages contractors. What the specific issue is that the AG has is unclear but it has been dragging on and it would be good to push it. The town invested an enormous amount of time in this (e.g. Gov Stoughton Committee et al) and the interest that the $5million would throw off to benefit financially stressed families in Milton could provide needed relief. Lastly, a decision would help the Milton Animal League figure out their long term strategy. The Copeland foundation has made them a significant grant but it will in part be determined by how the Pulte development plays out.

You may not remember but the Hendries building was ordered demolished. Complicating that is the fact that there are three owners of the property: Carrick Realty, the town, and mystery person. What makes this stranger than fiction is that the portion of the building that contains the primary reason for the issuance of the order (e.g. a partial roof collapse) belongs to the mystery person.  As we understand it, there is no clarity to who owns title to that portion of the property. That is one dimension to the issue. Another is a proposal to develop the property as a 40B; but the town has not been formally notified of an application. It is unclear how intent the developers are with that. In the meantime a group of elected officials and residents has been meeting on a somewhat regular basis to come to terms with the developers to revisit a mixed use proposal that meets their financial needs and is compliant with the zoning. Lastly, the town is also having an appraisal of their portion of the property done. That is the fuzzy picture. It would be good to get some focus. The neighborhood has been living with this for over 20 years.

One small tactic that would help keep the public apprised of the status, time frame, and progress of these issues would be to add an “old business” item to the meeting agenda. Maybe that is not needed for every session; but if it were added, say once a month, it would reassure the public that officials still had their eye on the ball(s).

Thanks for the great idea Mr. Hurley.

Related links

MassDOT Fiscal Year 2014 Chapter 90 Apportionment Packages