To the editor:
Tomorrow, the Amesbury City Council will consider spending what could potentially run into the millions of dollars of taxpayer monies to clean up and develop a parcel of land to the benefit of two private business owners.
No one disputes that this parcel, known colloquially as the Lower Millyard, is an eyesore. But there is honest disagreement over how, and when, to tackle the mess.
Mayor Kezer proposes spending some $2.2 million of taxpayer money to fix up the Lower Millyard, including its cleanup, creation of a park and the construction of a parking garage. The mayor further
states that once the Lower Millyard is readied, some “$93 million in private investment” would appear. Not cited is who, exactly, has $93 million ready and waiting to pump into the Amesbury economy. Moreover, Mayor Kezer has written that if we don’t spend this taxpayer money, the two abutting landowners “would be gone,” suggesting that said investors are willing to spend nearly $100 million but not $2.2 million. If you just raised an eyebrow, you’re not alone.
Another risk, not mentioned, is that decades of accumulated toxic waste lies under the surface of the targeted property, and to date no mention has been made of that likelihood, let alone who would shoulder the additional — and considerable — costs. Under terms of the proposed deal, we taxpayers will be “gifted” with a certain amount of land known to be contaminated (”brownfield”), and therefore we would be on the hook for its cleanup. From experience, the costs associated with such remediation can easily run in the millions. Amesbury can ill afford another Big Dig.
What’s clear, however, is that the town already suffers from excess capacity. Currently there are advertisements for office space of up to 3,000 square feet in the Upper Millyard, and Bailey’s Pond, the
Golden Triangle and the former Route 150 truck stop remain vast vacant lots. Whatever notion says that yet more office space and scores of additional condominiums might be the cure for what ails us — out of control property taxes — reason is not part of it.
“If we build it they will come” has not worked here. Amesbury is a bedroom community, not a manufacturing mecca or an office park extraordinaire. The best fiscal approach for the Amesbury taxpayers is to let those two landowners who stand to profit shoulder the burden of the Lower Millyard cleanup redevelopment. If the redevelopment is such a slam dunk, private investors would be tripping over themselves to get a piece of the action. A bet of taxpayer money of this size should come with guarantees. At this juncture, with millions in taxpayer funds on the line and no assurance of a return, it seems more likely to go down in Amesbury history as Kezer’s Folly.
The most efficient, economical path to good fiscal health is to first save, then spend. It’s what we teach our kids, and it holds true for adults as well. I strongly urge those who ran for the council on a platform of fiscal responsibility to remember their promises. With the state cutting back its reimbursements to the towns, the cost of running our city up 25 percent in the past eight years, and the Amesbury tax rate up 54 percent over the same period, we simply can’t afford it.