, Newburyport, MA

March 19, 2013

Amesbury spending report wasn't 'deeply flawed'

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

With the news of spending and taxing proposals flowing out the mayor’s office like sparks from a Roman candle, it may be good to remind Amesbury residents of the work done by a local citizens committee, also known as the ad hoc committee.

Three years ago, Councilor Robert Lavoie sponsored this committee so Amesbury could get some sense of why its citizens were feeling frustrated that their taxes and consequently their tax rates were growing out of proportion.

It was headed by Jonathan Sherwood, who made sure it was done openly and fairly and with a variety of views on the committee. It was a straightforward comparison of similar-size cities and towns throughout Massachusetts. The reasoning was to objectively look at such towns and take into account household incomes, which reflect the ability to pay the actual property taxes, and return this information to the council publicly so that it could use it as a guide for future planning and spending.

As Mr. Sherwood was quoted in The Daily News, the report “is what it is.”

As in all statistical analysis, outliers were removed as to not unfairly skew the data one way or another. Its essential conclusion was that Amesbury spends over 9.5 percent of its household income on property taxes where the average of like-size communities was 5.6 percent, a full 70 percent higher. This is why so many households have trouble coming to grips with their tax bills.

The analysis of the ad hoc committee has been posted online for the past three years for anyone to see. Nothing was hidden from view and can be seen here:

There was nothing “deeply flawed” about the ad hoc committee analysis and those who have said so have never said why.

Best of all, it was done absolutely free.

The last eight years have seen the cost of running the town of Amesbury go up 25 percent with a corresponding tax rate increase of 54 percent with no end in sight. Property values declined $67 million last year even as other municipalities begin to see values take a positive direction. The cycle continues this year as the ad hoc committee’s findings have been largely ignored. The question for the residents of Amesbury this year is as pertinent as it was three years ago: When will Amesbury become affordable again?

David Haraske