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Happy Holidays! Your property taxes are increasing for 14th straight year

22 Nov

Community development shows no vision, homeowners take the hit

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Used to be, back when our phones weren’t smart and our current mayor was still draining 3s for Peabody High’s basketball team, annual property tax increases were about as frequent as snow storms in July. They just didn’t happen, and “la, la, la, la, la, laaaaa” all was well in the land ruled by Peter Torigian.

taxIt’s only too bad that, while we were enjoying the rule of a man dubbed the Emperor by a former favorite ink-stained columnist, everyone forgot to glance at those dark clouds on the horizon.

But it’s time to pay for all of that now, Peabody.

In case you missed it, Mayor Ted Bettencourt came before the City Council on Thursday night to get another annual property tax increase. For those of you keeping track, combined between the Bettencourt and Mike Bonfanti administrations, that’s now 14 straight years of increases.

This time, the average homeowner will, they say, pay just $164 more a year. Doesn’t seem like a lot on its own, but let’s add this all up, shall we?

With the average increase the past 14 years being roughly 4% annually, that means our property taxes have increased a whopping 56% since 2001.

Blame it on those dark clouds, if you want. After all, the Torigian years were all about keeping taxes low in the 1980s and 1990s, with no one really thinking about the future when it came to building schools, and re-building infrastructure.

But while Democrats in Congress continue to say “it’s Bush’s fault,” it’s time for Peabodyites everywhere to stop blaming Torigian.

The late, great Emperor walked away at the end of 2001, and there were people who voted in the past election who are too young to even remember him as Mayor.

It’s also shortsighted to keep blaming this on a big bill from the North Shore Mega-Voke, which our City Council unwisely voted for four years ago.

And … trying to sugar coat it by saying the tax increase is kinda a good thing since our property valuations have risen? That’s, as you say, so much cow fertilizer! Unless you’re selling your home to get out or Peabody, who cares?

The true reason for these ceaseless annual increases is that the two mayors since Torigian have offered little vision for dramatically increasing Peabody’s revenues, while taking  that burden off residents.

Peabody still has no long-term plan for expanding its commercial tax base by bringing more quality-of-life-improving businesses to town. We have no REAL plan for the revitalization of our downtown, and the Centennial Industrial Park remains an out-of-date relic of the way business was done back in the 1970s.

Instead of having a long-term strategic plan for growth, we continue along with community development department leaders who couldn’t spell innovation without a dictionary, and think that jamming more tiny apartments into the downtown is the answer.

Look. I like Ted Bettencourt. I think he’s a great guy with lots of passion and enthusiasm for the job of Mayor, and have supported him personally with my votes and my checkbook. But he needs to lead here. He needs to clean house in community development, and bring in people who can help him develop a real plan for expanding our tax base without putting more of the burden on homeowners.

He needs to find out how they are doing it in Salem and Beverley and other North Shore communities, who have actual vibrant downtowns. Hey Ted, let’s go to other communities, where they’ve done it right, and try and steal away those strategic thinkers to help Peabody. It’s time to stop with the “well, Peabody still has the lowest tax rate on the North Shore” BS, and realize that it’s only going to get worse if we don’t start executing on a real community development plan.

After all, unless you call billboards and jamming more low income apartments into downtown “community development,” there really is no vision right now.

I truly am getting tired of writing this each year at this time.

But here we go again …

Happy Holidays, Peabody homeowners. You’re taxes are going up.

Question 1: The Road you should take is to vote yes

29 Oct

(This is the second in a series of posts bringing you the The Eye’s view when it comes to the state ballot questions in Nov. 4th’s election. Today, we look at Question 1, which if passed would keep the state’s gas tax from rising with inflation.)

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Opponents of Question 1 try to make the argument that inflation means less buying power, and in a few years — if this question passes — we might need to rename the Tobin … London Bridge.

Tobin Bridge is no London Bridge

Tobin Bridge is no London Bridge

Settle down there Question 1 opponents. If this thing passes, which it’s likely to do in Tuesday’s State election, Tobin Bridge is not falling down.

For those still unaware, a yes vote on Question 1 will over-turn a vote taken by our solons to tie or index the state gas tax to inflation. In other words, if inflation rises, the gas tax automatically does too.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the scary TV ads put out by AAA about how a yes vote will create some sort of roadway apocalypse from Stockbridge to Boston. It’s ridiculous, since if Question 1 passes, 24 cents of every gallon of gas you purchase will still go toward exclusively paying for roadway construction, repair and maintenance in Massachusetts.

Look, I don’t think many people are arguing against a much-needed gas tax to pay for these repairs. What we object to, though, is allowing our elected officials off the hook when it comes to raising our taxes.

If Question 1 fails, our representatives on Beacon Hill will be free to wring their hands and say how it wasn’t they who raised your taxes. If was that nasty ole inflation!

Let’s keep holding those who consider raising our taxes accountable. If they need more money for roads and bridges, let them stand before we the people and justify that while voting on the record.

Let’s not keep this index, which is essentially a form of “taxation without representation.”

Vote YES on Question 1.

New voke school is the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving for Peabody taxpayers

17 Sep

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

It’s the “gift” that keeps on giving, and now there’s reason to believe that Peabody taxpayers might be further fleeced because of an oversight when it comes to the new, totally ostentatious North Shore Technical School.

taxesYou see, the genius political movers and shakers, who built this Palace of Versailles of voke schools, forgot about a “little” obligation owed to the retirees of Essex Aggie, which was merged with the new voke.

Turns out that no one figured into the already over-inflated cost of the new school an additional $375,000 owed annually to pensioners. What that means is that Peabody, which wasn’t even part of the old district that included Essex Aggie, might be on the hook for a big chunk this oversight.

Oops! Maybe State Rep Ted Speliotis, a champion of this over-priced  educational edifice should simply throw up his arms and say … “sorry, the dog ate my homework.”

The new school, which will serve fewer than 200 of Peabody’s 6,000 students, is already taking a $3 million bite out of Peabody’s budget. This year, it was the primary reason for Peabody being forced, for the 13 straight year, to raise taxes on homeowners.

The problem now is that no one wants to own this mistake when it comes to the pension obligation, and no one seems to know how or why the oversight happened in the first place. Of course, the answer is simple as to who will “own” it. It belongs to us, and the taxpayers of all of the other communities who joined in here.

It’s too bad, since I’m sure the movers and shakers behind this over-the-top luxurious school building could have easily swept it under the rug when it came to the overall budget. Heck, no one would have even noticed. Right?

But now, we likely own it, and the question is, how much of it will be the obligation of Peabody taxpayers, whose kids never milked one cow at the old Essex Aggie?

Follow Bob on Twitter @eyeonpeabody

More housing downtown doesn’t equal a sensible plan for revitalization

1 Aug

Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you saw the local Beverly-based “newspaper” with Salem at the front of its name this morning, you might have thought that Peabody Square is now a trendy place to live,just like South Beach in Miami, or in one of those million dollar lofts above some shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

SquareThere is was, a huge spread, complete with room-by-room photos of new postage-stamp-sized apartments at 11 Main Street. But there are granite countertops, so who am I to talk?

There are also panoramic views of Peabody Square out the windows , where you can watch the sunset over lovely beauty shops, liquor stores, and vacant store fronts. I’m sure this will cause young professionals to flock in a frenzy to rent these new digs.

First off, congrats to developer Norman Lee for talking the local bugle into a huge kiss-ass spread on what are essentially 11 small apartments that might be occupied by middle to lower-middle class residents who are looking for affordable housing. Then again, as someone who previously worked for small, struggling newspapers, my guess here is that this article  was one of those “bought-and-paid-for” services. The newspaper in question, after all, is on death’s door, so why not disguise paid content as real news once in a while?

But I digress.

The reason for my rant this morning is that, what you see at 11 Main Street is right now Peabody’s idea of how we should re-vitalize the downtown. Let’s jump at every chance to allow willing developers to turn old, dilapidated spaces into small one-bedroom apartments. Yeah, right, that’ll bring people with money to spend into the downtown.

We’ve seen this before with those ugly apartments on Walnut Street, and seen other greedy, slip-shot developers come and go before the city council requesting special permits to build “lavish” apartments. As a way to re-develop downtown, this strategy has failed miserably while adding to the city’s stock of Section 8 housing.

I’m not saying that  Lee is “slipshod” or “greedy.” After all, he’s a businessman, and he saw an opportunity. These teeny-tiny apartments look kind of nice from the kiss-ass photos I saw, but why would “young professionals” want to live in Peabody Square right now?

I come back to this again and again in this space, but the beat goes on when it comes to Peabody not having an overall strategy to turn things around downtown. Someone in community development needs to FINALLY understand that turning prime locations in the downtown into lower income housing is NOT the way you create economic development that will have a positive impact on our tax base and our community.

We continue to have what amounts to ill-advised patch-work tactics rather than an actual, sustainable, actionable community development plan. We have a passionate mayor who I feel truly wants to get things rolling downtown in an effort to create more revenue for the city, and take some of the burden off residential payers. But then we also have a community development department that totally lacks vision.

So, we all watch as our taxes rise, and we continue to approve unsightly billboards as a way to create much-needed revenue for infrastructural  improvements, a much-needed new middle school, and to pay for a regional vocational school that is part grandiose educational facility, part scam to feed the state’s hack-o-rama.

So, congrats to Mr. Lee on his wondrous new apartments, which I hear have a trendy new address: 17 Peabody Square. After all, it’s not his fault that this is what passes in Peabody for sensible city planning.

Giving unauthorized signs no latitude on bike path

8 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

POLEIt’s always rewarding doing this blog when we’re able to be a watchdog, and elicit change. It’s happened numerous times since we started here more than two years ago.

And today, we bring you the latest example. We helped stop some possible shenanigans on the bike path, where certain powers that be allowed a free ad on public property for the Latitude Sports Club. This sign, which got Latitude’s name in front of thousands exercise fans, who are all potential customers for the club, was attached to a PMLP light pole.

SIGNAfter seeing it exposed here, the power company has done the right thing, and removed the unapproved sign. Looks like who ever put  up that sign will have to blow kisses at the developer in question in some other way. Wouldn’t it be nice it they could actually get the club to pay the city for sponsoring a section of the bike path, with the money going to help up keep of the path? After all, the last thing we want is to risk anonymous envelopes landing in someone’s mailbox.

Call this one a victory for the people of Peabody.

Caption the photos on the right “gone today, here yesterday.”

 

Update: PMLP taking down sign with curious ad for a local sports club

7 Jul

SIGNBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Less than a week after we pointed it out here on The Eye, we’ve learned that the “curious” sign on a bike path poll, advertising a local sports club, is being taken down by the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP).

Turns out that the sign (seen here on the right), was put on the light pole owned by PMLP without permission.  The Light Commission got wind of the sign, and  has asked that it be removed, and no one is sure how the blatant free ad — located just a few hundred yards from the bike path entrance to Lt. Ross Park — got there.

But all of this leads  us to believe that some good ole boy shenanigans continue in Ward 5. The “perks” continue for developers, who have  run amok in this part of the city for more than the last 25 years. This particular sign got the name of this sports club in front of thousands of walkers, bikers, and runners each day for free, and likely resulted in more memberships for the Route 1 club.

If you’re wondering how the sign got there, feel free to fill up Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw’sinbox with your question at jdsaslaw@gmail.com

Does anyone know what’s up with this sign?

3 Jul

SIGNBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Just curious today as I ask people in our growing audience if they know what’s up with this sign on the bike path near Lt. Ross Park?

First off, you can’t get to Latitude Sports Club from the bike path. But I’m even more curious to know how this private business’ name got on a city-owned directional sign in plain view of thousands of bikers, joggers, and walkers.  The exercisers who see this sign on a regular basis are definitely what you would call “qualified leads” for Latitude memberships.

Did Latitude pay for this? And if so, shouldn’t it clearly say they are just a sponsor of the bike path, rather than giving them what looks like an endorsement by the city? I actually think we should be encouraging businesses to sponsor things like the bike path, but this one looks a little fishy.

Also not sure if I’d be very happy with this if I were the owner of a competing Peabody-based workout facility.

 

Lovely and Cole don’t make us pay for their commute … Meanwhile, Speliotis is ‘King of the Per Diem’

1 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

We spend significant time in this space exposing elected officials when they don’t act in the best interests of “we the people.” So, it’s only fair that we also make mention when they do the right thing.

Leah Cole ... working toward the fringe?

Leah Cole: “We’re supposed to work for the taxpayers, and most people don’t get paid to drive to work.”

Those mentions come today as we tip our caps to State Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem), and State Rep. Leah Cole (R-Peabody).  After all, it came to light last week that neither Mrs. Lovely nor Ms. Cole are bilking the taxpayers for one of the most-outrageous benefits received by most of the solons on Beacon Hill.

Neither Lovely, nor Cole take per diem (up to $18/day) for just commuting into the State House. According to state treasurer records, taxpayers gave lawmakers more than $300,000 in per diems last year. Think about that as you’re paying out of your own pocket to fill up your tank three times a week just to get to work.

So, thank you Senator Lovely and Rep. Cole …

But now, let’s consider the case of the “King of Per Diems.” The people of West Peabody are represented by a man who shamelessly took your money at a rate of $18 per day just to commute to work. Ted Speliotis, who never saw a tax increase he didn’t like, collected $3,510 of your money last year to make 195 trips into Boston. By the way, the solons get this reimbursement without needing to provide receipts. It’s all on the honor system. Of all of the North Shore lawmakers, Speliotis took the second largest overall per diem, but he was less than $80 out of first place!

With per diem, we essentially pay Mr. Speliotis, who faces a stiff challenge this fall from West Peabody resident Tom Lyons, more than $70K per year for what’s essentially a part-time job.

And just as an important aside here … this guy voted for the gas tax. Why wouldn’t he? We’re the ones filling his tank for free.

“We’re supposed to be working for the taxpayers, and most people don’t get paid to drive to work,” Ms. Cole told the Salem News last week. “But I only live about 20 minutes away, so it’s not a big deal.”

By the way, if you see Ted Speliotis in traffic on the way into work someday, make sure you don’t have any cash in your hands if you decide to wave. He might grab it.

 

Peabody tax and water bills on rise as city tries to pay for new voke school boondoggle

19 Jun

Mayor calls for $5.4M budget increase; $3M assessed to pay for new voke school

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you supported those wasteful, big-spending elected officials – especially State Rep Ted Speliotis — who pushed for Peabody to join in the taxpayer screw job called the new North Shore Technical school, then please, bend over right now and scream out “thank you, sir! May I have another?!”

Call this horror show The MEGA VOKE that ate the Peabody Taxpayers!

Artists rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Artist rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Because of this opulent and overly ostentatious new voke school in Danvers – which will only serve around 150 of Peabody’s roughly 6,000 students – not only are your property taxes going up in 2015, but get ready for an increase in water and sewer rates too.

 

Mayor Ted Bettencourt submitted his FY2015 city budget to the City Council, and it’s calling for a $5.4 million increase, of which roughly $3 million will go to offset our share of next year’s piece of the North Shore Voke pork pie.

The mayor, in a letter to the city council obtained by The Eye, says that roughly means an average tax increase of $189 per homeowner, and a likely, yet to be determined increase in Peabody’s traditionally reasonable water and sewer rates. For those keeping score, that’s 13 straight years of property tax increases in Peabody.

And … this is just Year 1 of this Disaster in Danvers. This state of the art, $133 million school in Speliotis’ hometown, is the “gift” that will keep on giving for Peabody taxpayers now and forever.

Speliotis, who faces an election year challenge from Peabody Republican Tom Lyons, not only got this Taj Mahal of a school for his hometown of Danvers, but I’m sure he made big labor happy with the building’s bloated construction costs, which are already over budget.

Then there’s the hacks-at-the-trough process they’re using in hiring administrators. The new school’s superintendent, a guy named Daniel O’Connell, will make $197,000/year. That’s about $50K more a year than what we thought was a big contract for Peabody Schools Super Joe Mastrocola. Looks now  like Joe was a huge bargain when you consider that he manages a system with roughly 5,550 more students than will attend O’Connell’s school.

And, it gets ever worse. Not only will Peabody need to pony up millions more to send a handful of students to this new school, but because we’re transferring students from our system to this regional voke system, Peabody is set to lose $504K additional when it comes to state aid.

Next time you complain about the conditions in Peabody’s public schools, think about this: It’s only going to get worse while we as a city figure out a way to pay for a school that will service less than 3% of Peabody’s total student population. And we haven’t even talked about the costs associated with our own much-needed new Higgins Middle School, where huge construction bills are in the mail.

At this point, I should add a disclaimer for those screaming that I’m anti-vocational education. This space supports vocational education as much as the next blog, but we’re just not seeing the practicality or fairness of bilking the taxpayers in this particular situation.

Here are the facts, ladies and gentlemen: An estimated 200 Peabody kids, who we could have given a valuable vocational education had we only – for a lot less cost – re-vamped our on Peabody Vocational High School – are now going to watch helplessly as 150 of their classmates hit the lottery and are allowed to attend this educational palace on the hill in Danvers.

So, please bend over today, and thank Ted Speliotis, and those Peabody City Councilors who voted for this disastrous “gift” that will keep on giving for us the taxpayers.

Saslaw admits he applied for meter reader position, called two Light Commissioners about the job

11 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Just a quick update on an issue we first broke here in The Eye. Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw confirmed in an article in today’s Salem News that he has officially applied for a second city job as a meter reader at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant, and has called two Light Commissioners about the position.

The well-plmpwritten, well-balanced article, written by John Castelluccio, brings up the questions of whether it is legal and ethical for a sitting city councilor to hold an additional city job. In the article, Saslaw admits that he called two of the Light Commissioners, but insists he was not “lobbying for the job” with those fellow elected officials. Who knows? Maybe he was just checking with these commissioners to see if the PMLP was a cool place to work. :)

Light Plant General Manager  Glenn Trueira confirmed in the article that there are additional candidates on the list for this unskilled position.

Since we first broke this story, the issue of political patronage in city hiring has come to the forefront in Peabody.  Saslaw applying for this meter reader job, which pays $50,000/year with full benefits and a pension plan, put the spotlight on this issue, and sources tell The Eye that city officials are now being careful when it comes to hiring other current and former elected officials.

Stay tuned. We’ll update you as more info becomes available.

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