Warrant for Debut Exclusion and Its Advocates

Warrant article

Additional Information:
Chinese language YouTube video on the Lexington Debt Exclusion prepared by Helen Yang

Debt Exclusion prepared by Helen Yang (Town Appropriations)

Advocacy:

Yes: Yes for Lexington Campaign

No: Committee for Financial Responsibility in Lexington

No on Preschool (Question 2): Committee for Systemwide Masterplanning Before Building a New Preschool

Commentary on Advocacy Sites

Yes for Lexington enumerates the rationales for each project. However, this site fails to show voters the total cost of these projects. For example, to build a preschool the town first had to purchase the Pelham property for $8,000,000. Therefore the cost of the preschool is in excess of $22 million dollars.

We feel it is important to disclose the full costs because the Pelham property can still be reused for another purpose or disposed. Therefore the cost of building the preschool at $22 million must be evaluated against the fact that it would free up approximately four elementary school classrooms. If one estimates 100 students in those classrooms, then one can estimate the cost for capacity expansion at $220,000 per student.

Similarly the Yes site fails to mention that $4 million were spent on swing space for the Fire station, as well as costs swinging to and from the alternative space. Whether these projects make sense should be separated from the goal of full transparency.

The Committee for Financial Responsibility site focuses principally on the fact that Lexington could pay for these projects without a debt exclusion by tightening its belt elsewhere. The number of options presented are surprising, and some areas (such as METCO) are stated at values well below $5.6 million/year from previous studies. Combining some of the savings mentioned in this article (health care, METCO) with additional areas (CPA), there seems to be a substantive argument that Lexington could pay for additional capital items without increasing taxes.

However, there are two considerations in following the advice of the CFR website.

Timing: The Maria Hastings elementary school project is subsidized by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and failure to pass a debt exclusion could imperil those matching funds.

Approach: One might want significant capital projects such as Hastings covered by debt exclusions rather than the operating budget. Unfortunately, the 2017 town meeting suggests that town leaders will find useful spending for all proposition 2 1/2 funds. Should voters decline debt exclusions and force capital items into the operating budget?

The Committee for Systemwide Masterplanning Before Building a Preschool site focuses exclusively on question 2: funding for a Lexington preschool on Pelham Road.  The financial analysis taken on that site follows similar principles to those we articulate, looking at the long term financial health of Lexington and the unprecedentedly high levels of debt implied if these projects are soon followed by a new Lexington High School and seventh elementary school.  What we find unique to this site is it’s proposal that a systemwide master plan should be put in place before piecemeal solutions to the Lexington school enrollment crisis.


Let’s revisit our voting decision table and see how these three websites make their case:

Yes for Lexington:

The Yes for Lexington campaign’s website emphasizes the merits of the three projects and calls on voters to vote yes for all three projects. Little space is devoted to explaining why they should be excluded from the proposition 2 1/2 limit.  We feel that it provides insufficient voter education since it implies that a positive project assessment leads to a yes vote.

 

Don’t Exclude Exclude
Bad Project Vote No Vote No
Good Project Vote No Vote Yes

Committee for Financial Responsibility

The Committee for Financial Responsibility’s website discusses the town’s finances and makes the case that even if these projects have merits, they should not be excluded from the Proposition 2 1/2 limit.  If voters accept this premise, then for purposes of the debt exclusion vote it does not matter how one assesses the projects.

 

Don’t Exclude Exclude
Bad Project Vote No Vote No
Good Project Vote No Vote Yes

Committee for Systemwide Masterplanning Before Building a New Preschool:

The Plan before Preschool committee’s website challenges the merits of a single project, the preschool project. As a result it recommends a no vote on question two. If voters accept that the preschool fails on its merits, then the debt exclusion discussion becomes unnecessary.  That ballot committee does not take a position on the other two questions.

Don’t Exclude Exclude
Bad Project Vote No Vote No
Good Project Vote No Vote Yes