To the Editor:
Marion is a magnificent community with a nationally recognized sailing harbor. That’s why we all live here. It also has a fragile municipal structure managed mainly by volunteers, elected and appointed, working with limited resources struggling with increasing complexities. There are a number of structural and economic issues that impact our community; some we can fix, others we need to live with, and the others we plan for or around. These issues should be considered when voting at this year’s Town Meeting and Election.
Planning: There is little or no coordinated planning for management of Town assets and resources. Planning and spending are sporadic and reactive reflecting continuing narrow “Chimney Management.” Board-based and comprehensive planning does not yet exist and is necessary for effective asset and resource planning and utilization. Without this, community needs are hard to identify and prioritize. Operating and capital budgeting are difficult.
Geographical and Zoning Restrictions: Size 14 square miles and remote location: There is significant allocation of land to open spaces, conservation, wetlands and highways. Commercial zoning is limited and restrictive. Economic development opportunities are geographically constrained and zoning contained.
Physical Assets: Deferred maintenance and investment leaves Town assets in poor condition. There are significant capacity issues causing considerable expensive and unnecessary maintenance, repairs and investment. Matching community needs with community resources requires good planning.
Financial Constants on the Municipal Structure: Marion is a tiny economic entity. Real-estate taxes provide the foundation for financing municipal government. Revenue growth from other sources is limited. Operating revenue enhancement and debt financing opportunities for capital spending is limited by a small tax base supported by a growing number of fixed income retirees. There are 2,400 taxpayers: 25% of the taxpayers pay 60% of the taxes and 50% of the taxpayer pay 80% of the taxes.
Population and Demographics: Marion’s population is 5,300: 30% of the population is retirement age and many living on fixed incomes, yet only 8.4% of our population is Sippican School age grades K-6th. The Town is attractive for retirees and second home owners. High paying employment opportunities are very limited to support younger families and growing income levels.
The Marion Town Meeting warrant is out with a healthy dose of spending and financial commitments. Marion’s costs continue increasing and now are approaching $25 million. The Proposed $19.1 Town Meeting operating Budget allocated for each tax dollar is: 44 cents for operating Town government; 35 cents for the Sippican School; and 21 cents for all other schools. Sewer and the water enterprise funds are $2.4 and $1.97 million respectively. There is $620,000 requested for trust and stabilization funds, good fiscal planning by the finance committee. Another three warrant articles request $39,500 in spending for weed control, a viewing platform and CPC administration.
The Warrant’s proposed $2.7 million FY 2015 capital budget request includes a $1.5 million water tank, $540,000 fire truck, and $203,000 in Music Hall repairs scattered among three different article requests. Funding request are also included for engineering studies for a new DPW complex and the sewer plant which will significantly improve planning and capital forecasting for these facilities.
Coming over the longer term financial horizon for current and future taxpayers are approvals, future commitments and capital spending estimated at $133.4 million or $47,270 per taxpayer. At this point, Marion has committed debt costs (principal and interest) of $42.5 million. The 10-year five-phase $20.4 million Village Project sewer, drainage and paving project has an expected debt cost of approximately $24 million. Unfunded retiree medical and pension future obligations for employees are estimated at $16.6 million. On the perpetually updated capital forecast I maintain as a Capital Committee member there is $30.1 million in visible new spending, much of which is forecasted within a five-year window. This includes placeholders among others for the Town House, DPW complex, Sewer Plant and lagoon upgrades, fire equipment and facility upgrades, vehicles purchases and more water projects.
Revenue growth from exciting and new sources is difficult. We need to do a better job managing the resources available. Good planning is a critical part of the structural and economic equation. The Planning Board with other boards and committees need to form a partnership in developing a realistic working plan for Marion’s future.
Ted North, Marion
Sources” Town Report, Town Warrant, May 15, 2013 Debt Refunding Prospectus and collective Planning Board and Capital Committee Participation
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