Happy Birthday Norton
On June 12th the citizens of Norton will line the road to watch a parade celebrating the 300th birthday of the town. It will be a wonderful way to celebrate Norton’s past. The day before the parade those same citizens will go to the polls to decide Norton’s future. Norton has a chance to renovate the town’s and put on a much needed addition while being reimbursed for 64% of the cost. Even with the reimbursement the cost is no small figure. The projected cost of the project after reimbursement is likely to approach $11.5 million and will require a debt exclusion to be passed at the special Town Meeting on June 6th and also by vote at the polls on June 11th. It seems like we have become a town of 2 minds when it comes to how we view this decision. One group will look at this decision as one that needs to be made with the improvement of Norton’s schools as the relevant issue. This group believes the improvement in our children’s future should be the prevailing concern. A second group sees the decision as an economic one and wonders if it makes sense for them to put forward their hard earned income to make this renovation and addition a reality.
The first group has an easy task. The project will clearly improve the high school. It will add updated science labs that will allow our children to remain competitive in an economy that pays a premium to workers in scientific fields. It will better other areas as well; the Arts, Athletics. Even the windowless cafeteria will be vastly improved. Heating will no longer be an issue. There will no longer be interior classrooms where students can’t tell if it is night or day. The effect on the quality of students’ daily life would be substantial and undeniable.
The second group has a much more elusive decision to make. The project will mean a temporary increase in taxes. The increase will not be large by most measures, but in these hard economic times, any increase is too much if there is not a corresponding benefit. Unlike the educational benefits, the economic benefits of this project are not immediately obvious. But if we take a moment and look closely at what the project will mean for Norton, the benefits become much clearer.
First there is the cost of the project. It is a $32 million project that we will get “on sale”. 64% off is a substantial discount. Over $20 million is going to be reimbursed by the State. But the reimbursement rate is essentially a “one time offer”. It is funded through the state sales tax. However if there were to be a decrease in the sales tax rate (which was recently attempted) or a revenue problem on the State level (which seems to be a constant these days) that funding will quickly be in jeopardy. By approving the project now, we lock in this exceptional reimbursement rate. And if we pass on this project now, we will be moved to the back of the line with no guarantee of ever getting offered any reimbursement in the future. The $20 million which was funded through the state sales tax…..money you paid to the State…..will go to some other town. Certainly Mansfield, Easton, or some other neighboring town would be glad to reap the benefits provided by your tax dollars.
Beyond the cost of the project, there is the savings the town would realize by updating things like the heating system. Every dollar we save on the daily maintenance and operating expense of our schools is effectively money that can go to other areas without needing to increase the budget. A penny saved is truly a penny earned. And the benefits do not end there. One way to keep taxes low is to find ways to save. This project does that. The other way to keep taxes low is to increase the potential revenue of the town. Businesses prefer to locate in towns with good school systems. It makes it easier to attract and maintain employees. Bringing businesses into Norton means more tax revenue for the town. That means each of us will have less of a tax burden than we would without those businesses. The jobs that those businesses would bring to our town are just an added bonus.
If you own a home or land in Norton there is another benefit. Every economic study tells us that homes in districts with good school systems are more valuable than those with poor schools. Norton already has great test scores, but the condition of our high school fosters the perception that Norton is a town where education is not a priority. This project would reverse that perception. By investing in our high school, we are investing in our own homes. Owners of undeveloped land could potentially be even bigger winners. Any increase in taxes would be offset many times over by the increase in property values. On a net basis, property owners are actually coming out substantially ahead. Ultimately this project may make even more sense from an economic standpoint than it does educationally.
Get out your lawn chairs Norton. Find a good spot on the parade route. Put your kids up on your shoulders so they can get a good view. And hope for a warm and sunny day. But before you do any of that, go to the town meeting and the polls. Close your eyes. Make a wish. Then take a very deep breath and blow out 300 candles. On this birthday it looks like everyone will get their wish. How cool is that? Happy birthday Norton!
Norton School Committee