AYER - There are three Ayer Special Town Meetings scheduled for Monday, Oct. 22. The Ayer Finance Committee withheld making its recommendation on the warrant articles until Wednesday night. Since the warrants have already gone to the printers, the committee will orally deliver its recommendations on Town Meeting floor.
The first two warrants were sparked by citizens petitions circulated by Ayer selectman Frank Maxant. Both ultimately ask Ayer voters if they wish to petition the state legislature to restore Ayer's governmental jurisdiction over former Fort Devens lands that were previously governed by Ayer town government before the Army encampment was formed in 1917.
Maxant's second Town Meeting warrant likewise seeks to return jurisdiction of Ayer's original jurisdiction, but contemplates similar votes made by Harvard and Shirley Town Meeting. The second warrant asks for Ayer, in concert with the other two towns, to seek the return of town rule to all of the DREZ lands.
Chairman Scott Houde presented Maxant's draft thumbnail sketch of the financial picture Devens could paint for the town. Maxant estimates that Ayer could realize $2.3 million in annual real estate tax revenue for commercial and residential properties located within Ayer's historical jurisdiction but now governed by MassDevelopment within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ) .
Maxant estimated $710,000 in added annual service costs if Ayer resumed jurisdiction over the DREZ/Ayer lands. That number includes increased police ($223,224), fire ($287,500) and DPW ($200,000) expense. However, that figure does not include the cost of educating Devens school-aged who are now educated in the Harvard School district. Maxant didn't provide an annual cost for that contract.
Looking broadly at revenue versus expenses, Maxant projected a net income to Ayer of $1.65 million annually. "We haven't had time to do in depth analysis ourselves,"said Houde.
Committee member Michael Pattenden surmised "so we'd really just be expanding the town boundaries."
"Education is a huge hole," said committee member Brian Muldoon. Ultimately, the Finance Committee opted against issuing a recommendation to Town Meeting on the two DREZ warrants.
On financial matters within the third "business meeting" warrant, the Finance Committee did weigh in.
Houde presented a draft version of a handout the committee will distribute at Town Meeting regarding Article 1. The article suggests the Ayer Shirley Regional School agreement be changed to allow for the assumption of payment on capital debt for the Shirley Middle School in 2003 - eight years before the towns' schools regionalized in 2011.
The committee's handout provides estimates on the added cost to the average Ayer homeowner (with a home assessment of $270,00) if one of four scenarios played out.
-- (1) If the district proceeded to only renovate the high school and not take into account the ongoing middle school debt assistance, then the average homeowner would pay $173 more a year in annual property taxes over 20 years.
-- (2) If the high school renovations proceed and Ayer offsets Shirley's share of the high school renovation project by picking up more of the high school tab (as has been proposed by the school district) then the average Ayer tax bill increases by some $202 for each of 20 years.
-- (3) If the high school project were recast into a combined high- and middle- school project, the cost of the renovations were to jump, costing the average Ayer taxpayer $221 more per year over 20 years.
-- (4) And the cost of doing nothing appeared the most steep according to Houde's draft figures and a $268 annual cost for 20 years.
"We as a town should pay our way," said Houde, who supports the second scenario. "It's a good sound investment."
"I have to agree that it's fair that we pay rent- call it what you want. I can't argue with that," said committee member Michael Pattenden. Pattenden said he was concerned that the school district would later present "another grandiose plan" to overhaul another district school.
Houde said he was preparing figures for town wide consumption on the cost of all the town's current debt service. "We have to be very conscious town wide."
The committee unanimously supported Article 1.
The committee also agreed to support Articles 2, 3 and 4. They are a re-do of articles rejected at Annual Town Meeting in May.
Article 2 seeks to create a Finance Department, overseen by a selectmen-appointed Finance Director. Article 3 seeks to change from an elected to an appointed Town Treasurer. And Article 4 seeks a switch from an elected Town Clerk to a selectmen-appointed Town-wide Collector.
"It makes sense to me," said committee member John Kilcommins.
"I see us as a $20 million business," said Houde. "I realize we have to start running ourselves more as a business."
Muldoon noted the changes were suggested by the Department of Revenue in 2007 and were recommended again by the Town Government Study Committee.
"On one level I agree; a $20 million business should be run as a business," said Pattenden. "On the other hand I have a sever reservation on the way I feel its being done. I'm absolutely torn."
Pattenden abstained as the rest of the board voted 3-0 on Articles 2-4. Treasurer Stephanie Gintner lobbied for the Treasurer to remain as an elected post. "I think you have the checks and balances."
Gintner said to condense financial power in the board of selectmen is poor form because "They have all the power."
And the committee voted to support an article that seeks to empower the selectmen with the power to sell, lease, or restore the former town fire house on Washington Street.
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.