CARVER – Town Administrator Michael Milanoski has released the Carver Select Board and Town Administrator’s 2019 Annual Report that will be included the 2019 Annual Town Report:
The Town of Carver’s Select Board directed transparency and good government half a dozen years ago to end the division in the town over the funding for a new elementary school and government finances. With the creation of new policies, town staff as well as the Select Board follow these and provide factual transparency. With Richard "Dick" Ward at the helm then of the Town’s policy board and with Town Meeting’s full-support, these structural changes were implemented to provide a transparency and collaboration with boards and staff that transformed Carver’s town government as results have proven. What has been accomplished is unprecedented in any other Massachusetts community in just six short years and is a model for many similar sized communities.
The Carver town government operates like a fiscally and socially responsible business focused on providing quality services taxpayers can afford and willing to pay for. Steered by dedicated elected and appointed leaders and staff, Carver continues to streamline governmental structure and operations with the goal of long-term financial sustainability. With great collaboration and steadfast resolve to Carver’s Financial Policies over the past six years, our savings and cost avoidance has exceeded $62,000,000. In perspective, these savings and cost avoidance combined, equal more than double the amount of taxes collected by the town this year. Think about it - in six years with strong professional staff the town in essence saved double its tax income while providing and expanding services including a school resource officer, more Operations and Maintenance staff, and an assistant deputy fire chief and soon to be deputy police chief as negotiated with full support of the Carver Police Union.
Town Meeting’s Financial Management Policies allow the town to plan for tomorrow in an effective and efficient manner while living today within our economic means. The Select Board and Carver Town Meeting made significant organization and policy changes that demonstrate its’ focus for sound fiscal management of Carver’s taxpayer resources. At the forefront, is a sustainable 10-year town-wide budget developed to provide the level of service Carver can afford within our known projected revenues.
The backbone of Carver’s strength is the exceptional work and dedication of town’s professional staff that organizationally are second to none for a community of our size and finances. Their work is done in partnership with the elected officials, appointed boards, and committee members who provide the policy direction and oversight supporting Carver’s long-term goals. Over the last few years we have been able to attract more people to participate in local government at all levels and appoint qualified individuals to these board and commissions that are a statement to the diversity of the community and their ability to focus on the community as a whole. We are pleased to announce the Finance Committee for the first time in recent history has its full 11 members. Their shared focus is always on Carver’s financial sustainability providing the high level of service within known projected revenues.
2019 continued full implementation of the centralized town-wide Informational Technology Department lead by our town-wide IT Director Stephen Mahoney and his two staff. The Operations and Maintenance Department lead by Director Dave Siedentopf and Deputy Director John Woods has 8 people maintaining all roads, cemeteries, and recreational fields in our 39.7 square mile town. Items of shared benefits are continuing to be explored with the goal of efficiency and long-term cost avoidance and savings for both the town and school. This is a direct result of the full support and joint collaboration and mutual respect of the superintendent and the town administrator.
This was a big year for the police department who has been waiting their turn in the capital priorities of the town. The Police Station Advisory Committee completed its design and construction plan and went out to bid with the assistance of Architect Brian Humes and Project Manager Joe Sullivan. Construction began in January with a project the Town has approved and can afford to meet the needs of the department for the next 50 years. A lawsuit delayed the police station and new recreation complex projects. The Police Union also negotiated their quickest contract that included reorganization of their detective division, creation of a deputy chief position. In addition the department also ran its sixth successful "Carver Night Out" bringing in thousands of residents and recently with private support began providing Police Buddy Bags for children that require public safety assistance, and Byran Berraiult was promoted to position of sergeant.
Your professionally-trained Carver Fire Department is comprised of 77 officers/firefighters with five additional firefighters-in-training. The department continues to excel with a response time of 5.7 minutes with a staffed engine company. On average, 18 firefighters are on-scene supporting a daytime incident and 25 or more support evening incidences. The department responds to mutual aid three times more than received. A third of the force are state-certified fire instructors able to instruct at the state Fire Academy. While continuing to provide high-level protection and service, the Carver Fire Department saves the taxpayers almost two million dollars per year versus a full-time department in comparable towns.
As if this department does not do enough, the Carver Fire Department recently underwent a review with the Insurance Services Office (ISO) in order to survey and update the fire protection classification rating of Carver that resulted in the highest On Call Fire Department rating in the State going from a 8/8X to a 2/2Y rating on a 10 point scale or in the top 4% of fire departments in the country. Effective in 2019, taxpayers should see their homeowner’s insurance drop 5 to 20% or about $60 to $250 for an average home value of $400,000. Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Jesse Boyle and Fire Dispatcher Matt Barrington, played a major role over the last two years compiling all the information necessary. One final note, for perspective, the Carver Fire Department operations cost the town $54/person and due to their effort will result in a savings again from $60 to $250 a home.
Your Emergency Medical Services Department (EMS) is self-funded without any Carver Taxpayer funds and is comprised of 19 paramedics and 26 basic EMTs. Lifesaving care is provided around the clock with our new ambulance. A second ambulance is available for callback without the use of taxpayer funds 24/7. With the support of EMS, Fire, O&M, and Police the town will now be building a new state of the art "Town Wide" Public Safety Radio System which will replace the 20+ year old data equipment currently used as well providing enhanced communications in our schools.
The savings from both the EMS and Fire Department allows Carver to bridge the state educational funding gap. The savings in public safety allows Carver to devote more funds to education and provide a first class education system. In FY99 the state paid 60 percent of the required Net School Spending; 21 years later only 44 percent, resulting in a burden shift to the Carver taxpayer of 16 percent of the school budget, approximately $4,000,000. These funds would not be able to be dedicated to the school district without an operational override "but for" Carver’s On Call Fire and EMS department. If Carver’s Fire and EMS department went full-time then several million dollars would have to be reversed from the schools into public safety, similar to comparable towns or an operational override would be needed.
In the last 20 years, Carver’s student population dropped 30 percent to less than 1,604 students. Critically important to the town is developing and funding a long-term economically viable school district which will require additional strategic study and analysis. The target of 2,000 students has been recommended by the state education department to have the economy of scale and to provide additional electives and other requested programs.
Carver’s Finance Committee is exploring, long-term options from a financial and sustainability standpoint to address our smaller school district with collaboration from other boards, committees, and residents. The DPW, Police, Clerical, and Dispatch Unions as well as non-union employees have a bifurcated benefits contract where new employees agree to share health care expenses equally with the town. The Home Rule Petition voted by the town requires all employees who retire after June 30, 2025 to share equally in their health care benefits at 50/50. These changes will have significant savings towards Carver’s Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB). In 2021, the OPEB unfunded actuarial liability of $69,583,345 has been reduced to $38,732,998 due to actions taken by the Select Board over the last six years - a $30,850,347 liability savings. OPEB is a town liability for the health care cost of all retirees. Like our pension system, Carver is responsible for funding OPEB without assistance from federal or state government. Having the Massachusetts Teachers Union support a similar change in their contract would greatly reduce the likelihood of potential future impacts on the Town’s financial sustainability.
The following are highlights of Carver’s 2019 accomplishments:
• Carver Redevelopment Authority continues to partner with the new owner of the former 127-acre Whitworth Property to produce over a million square feet of development off Route 44. This project is anticipated to help defray a portion of the North Carver Water District’s subsidies from the town as well as generate significant tax revenue at full buildout. Rt. 44 development recently purchased the last house on the site. Carver staff secured a $3.2 million competitive MassWorks grant that will require an $800,000 match from the developer to complete this infrastructure project, this result in $4 million worth of investment in Carver by others than the Carver taxpayers.
• The Select Board approved the USDOT Zero Tolerance Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy.
• Carver joined the consortium of Mass Opioid Litigation Attorneys to file suit against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to hold them accountable for flooding our community with opioids.
• Town Meeting approved zoning amendment for energy storage as a principle use potentially providing significant tax benefits to the town without impacts on town services that will financially support our schools and public safety departments.
• Carver conducted a town-wide survey to identify the needs of the community members 55 years of age and older to determine programs to offer in the future. Savery Moore has been meeting with multiple groups in town to promote the results that will define how best to address the needs of the community. Out of this effort the Carver’s Community Living Department was formed and approved by the Select Board. This department will provide enhanced services to the 55 and over community, library, recreation and veterans groups.
• Tighe and Bond completed the Storm Water Management Plan (SWMP) to comply with the NPDES permit and to continue to mitigate the impacts of storm water runoff within the town.
• The town’s Insurance Company MIIA awarded the town to be a test community for low temperature alarms for classrooms, giving the town additional resources for free in lieu of a grant.
• Improvements are ongoing in Carver’s financial operations. Under the leadership of Finance Director Meg LaMay, the centralized Finance Department’s staff completed another successful audit that demonstrated the solid position of Carver’s financial position as echoed by the town’s independent auditor Powers and Sullivan.
• The Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District has voted to discontinue operations at the end of 2020 due to subsidy ending from Covanta. Over the last few decades Carver residents received basically free garbage disposal. In 2018 the sticker rate was $50 per year, however given the CMWRRDD voted to not charge the towns in 2019 due to the reorganization and surplus that occurred by the three town administrators, the rate was amended by Alan Dunham to $10 for 2020.
• Assistant Town Administrator and Human Resources Coordinator Elaine Weston revised and upgraded the town’s personnel policy and Carver completed its second year of employee performance reviews. Also, an employee satisfaction survey was completed in the fall that outlined the positive work environment in Town Hall with a few recommended changes.
• Bill "BJ" Harriman was nominated and awarded The Robert H. Merritt Public Service Award for his years of dedication and volunteer time for the town.
• The Town Clerk's office was filled by a newcomer in 2019.
• The Carver Recreational Committee continued to implement many new activities that generated high levels of interest. The committee continues to address the recreational needs in the community. In addition, the committee has designed a Master Plan for a new recreation complex on the King Field Property and received funding from Community Preservation Committee to fund phase one of the development from current available funds that is anticipated to open in April 2020.
Several building projects following Carver’s strong financial policies were completed all under the tax levy years ahead of schedule. The Middle High School Sports Complex, the major rehabilitation of the Middle High School and a new water treatment system were completed. These projects were completed within the existing Proposition 2-1⁄2 statute resulting in no new taxes to the residents beyond those already committed.
The new Carver Elementary School opened for its second academic year. The Elementary Building Committee, under the leadership of Dick Ward, operated through collaboration and recognition of what maintains the "best interest" of the entire community; they operated with transparency only using the "all-in cost." Bill Harriman, chairman of the school Technical Review Committee, managed the construction of the project. His committee can take responsibility for bringing the project $4 million below the town approval along with the others that assisted in this effort. In addition $1,262,088 will be turned back to the town from this project that will be reallocated for the police station – keeping with the Town Meting promise the station will be funded within the tax base.
Four out of every five Carver taxpayers approved a debt exclusion for the new Elementary School in the amount of $1.39/$100,000 of value added to the tax rate or $359.01 per average single-family household. Following the town’s financial policy, actions taken by the Select Board resulted in the town obtaining a very favorable bond rating. The debt service on the 25-year bond was able to be reduced by approximately $9 million. This is a 28 percent reduction from voter-approved rates.
The aftermath of assigning the $100,000 annual solar project funds, improving our bond rating, securing a historically-low interest rate, and designing and bidding the elementary school project with savings to the town, will result in the final tax rate will be $0.83/$100,000 of value. This is a 40 percent reduction to an average residential taxpayer of $233.89 to fund their share of the new Elementary School which is an outstanding and precedent setting achievement from a public process.
Over the last six years, the policy actions by your Select Board and the leadership of your professional staff have resulted in a combined savings or cost avoidance of approximately $62 million. This figure includes $19 million for new school versus the previous proposed renovation project, $9 million in reduced principal and interest payments for new school, $31 million in reduced OPEB liability, and $3 million reduction in the middle high school accelerated project. This is equivalent to one and a half times Carver’s total annual budget.
This past year, the Select Board approved nearly a million dollars in new tax agreements for solar and battery projects that will last for 20-year totaling approximately $20 milion. Tax Agreements for personal property (ex: solar farms) depreciate over time and are considered one-time sources of funding as they are not reoccurring given they have a defined termination date. The Select Board voted to allocate these "Tax Agreements" equally into three categories, first is for unfunded liability (pension and OPEB), second to a sinking capital stabilization fund for a new middle high school, and third to offset operational funding to the "Capital and Debt Stabilization Fund" that will provide over $300,000 to the operating budget every year.
I want to thank Elaine Weston, our assistant town administrator/human resource coordinator, for her continued dedication and managing the inner workings of Town Hall, along with Shelby Blair, Maureen Nissen, Nancy Hubbard, Kari Boss and the rest of the dedicated staff who serve our taxpayers. As we embark on an exciting 2020, I want to thank you for the opportunity to continue to serve the town of Carver. It has been an honor and privilege to be your town administrator and to work alongside the wonderful people and dedicated staff of Carver.