Did you catch Jean-Marie Caterina’s reelection ad in Friday’s issue of the Leader? Jean-Marie as a fiscal conservative??? We think not!
Ms. Caterina appears to be using the same canard (ruse, deception) attempted by former Councilor Bill Donovan in his reelection bid last year. He, too, dressed himself up in the clothes of a fiscal conservative, but that attire utterly failed to conceal his true big-spending ways. That Ms. Caterina is following the path blazed by Mr. Donovan should come as no surprise to those in town who recognize him as her soulmate, confidant and political guide. May Jean-Marie achieve the same richly deserved electoral fate as Mr. D. – last place and safely off the Town Council.
Here is a Councilor who consistently votes for proposals and “deals” that have cost all taxpayers dearly. She was all in for the $80 million tax break for the Downs and then the add-on $2.5 million tax break for WEX. (You remember the WEX deal… their CEO takes home $5.6 million per year and yet Scarborough taxpayers have to chip in $150,000 per year to lower their office rent. Boo hoo!) And the next time Ms. Caterina speaks out for reining in the school budget will be the first time.
She holds herself out as a champion of seniors by pushing for senior tax assistance. Unfortunately, this just creates another type of tax break that gets spread around for everyone to pay for – including hard-working families as well as seniors who don’t quite qualify for the assistance. Most seniors would prefer affordable taxes for everyone… that’s really the way to allow seniors to remain in their homes.
This is not the picture of a fiscally conservative Councilor! Remember, a vote for Caterina is a vote for (much) higher taxes.
Scarborough’s Growth Addiction
In case you haven’t noticed, Scarborough is growing like billy-o. Our Town leaders have been talking about it for quite some time now, but not much appears to have happened to address it. We are, as a Town, addicted to growth.
So, other than the obvious row after row of nondescript apartment buildings that are sprouting up all over the place, is there any hard evidence of the apparent growth spurt? Indeed there is.
The first Assessor’s Report by the Town’s new Assessor, Nick Cloutier, is a breath of data-filled fresh air. It’s only a couple of pages long, but it provides real insight into the Town’s assessed value changes and totals. (The report may be found at pdf pages 3-4 of the agenda linked here.)
In the report, you will see that the gross valuation growth of all property in Town (residential and commercial) was $100 million in the 12 months ended April 1, 2020. That compares to typical growth in the $30-45 million range in the years just before our revaluations. (We don’t know what growth related to new construction was during the two revaluation years because, unfortunately, it wasn’t separated from the revaluation impact.) So last year’s growth was more twice that of the recent past. It’s not just your imagination… we’re growing faster than ever. And there’s no end in sight.
How do we deal with this growth addiction? Well, if we decided to follow a 12-step program, step 1 would be to acknowledge we have a problem. So far, Town leaders can’t even bring themselves to that crucial acknowledgement. Let’s hope they do something soon to stop this out-of-control growth. There are two opportunities to deal with the issue: (1) revise the so-called Growth Management Ordinance and (2) put some strong guidance limiting growth in the Comprehensive Plan that is currently being wrapped up (after 3 years). Yes, it sounds like incredibly dull stuff. But if we don’t pay attention, we’ll be the City of Scarborough any day now.
There is only one Town Council candidate who really gets the growth issue — Nick McGee. From his years on the Planning Board, he knows exactly what’s going on and how to put some commonsense controls on our growth addiction. He’s getting our vote. In fact, even though there are three openings on the Town Council, we’re only voting for Nick. There’s absolutely no need to vote for candidates who won’t support your positions! A vote for just Nick improves his chances of being elected.
The Downs to the Rescue!
Speaking of runaway growth… Besides Ms. Caterina’s amusingly disingenuous political ad, this week’s Leader had another noteworthy feature – a front-page “story” about how the Downs is soooo good for Scarborough. In fact, this was the second front-page article on this subject in the last six weeks. And when we say “article,” we mean public relations blurb, pure and simple. No questioning of what was presented, no opposing views… just a showcase of what “the local boys” want Town residents to know.
This latest puff piece is a corker. It’s allegedly a financial analysis of what the Downs means to Scarborough. Astute readers will recognize that it’s really a projection of what might be achieved – if you believe the Downs’ math – through the end of 2023. It’s what the local boys project is going to happen over the next 3-plus years. Who knows what the economy and real estate market will look like next year or the year after? Given the events of the last seven or eight months, this is not a great time to be in the crystal ball business.
The fact that the analysis is largely a 3-year projection is bad enough, but the math behind the projection is really awful. The report follows the same flawed methodology that the Downs used to sell the $80 million tax break to four members of the Town Council back when the $80 million tax break was approved a couple years ago. It attempts to calculate the net tax benefit to the Town of various types of properties. So, for instance, a retail store will supposedly only incur incremental costs associated with police and fire protection. Since the real estate taxes on the store are well in excess of those incremental costs, retail stores are a big financial winner. Conversely, single family homes, with the high cost of educating the children that come with them, are a huge financial drain compared to the amount of taxes they generate.
(The report, paid for by the Downs, is at pdf pages 5-18 at this link.)
There are at least two major flaws with this type of analysis:
(1) The methodology fails to consider all relevant costs. This methodology ignores huge swaths of overhead expenses (debt, for instance) which are ultimately impacted by the development. Also, looking at incremental costs as opposed to full costs will always present a rosier short-term financial result than the realistic long-term full-cost impact.
(2) The methodology is inconsistent with fair taxation. Essentially the incremental return on investment model allows certain properties to make net tax contributions that are less than those of others based on the services those properties theoretically use. This net tax contribution based on a pick-and-choose your expenses concept is unsound. A logical extension of its application would be that households in single family homes with no kids in school should pay taxes at a lower rate than those households with kids in the Scarborough schools. That concept would offend most residents… but a close variation of it is the basis for the “significant fiscal benefit” described in the developer-sponsored financial analysis.
And finally, there’s the matter of what’s not said in the analysis. It asserts that the Town will receive $5.2 million in new taxes over the life of the analysis. But what it fails to note is that $3.4 million of tax revenue that otherwise would have been available in the Town budget for municipal and school services over the period will instead be paid to the developers. Remember this $3.4 million of foregone tax revenue at budget time next year when the schools make their annual threat to save $60,000 by eliminating middle school sports.
Call us suspicious [it won’t be the first time], but this flurry of promoting how-good-the-Downs-is-for-Scarborough makes us very uneasy that we’re being softened up for the next big tax break for the local boys at the Downs. You heard it here first.
That’s all for now, fellow travelers in this topsy-turvy new world. Make sure you vote on or before November 3. In the meantime, be healthy, be safe and most of all…
(Nom de blog of Steve Hanly, who is solely responsible for the content above.)