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Hoping for more evaluation of fact, analysis, and documentation from Patrick White

Mr. White would have us believe that until he started his service on the Select Board in 2020, neither his predecessors in office or members of the Finance Committee were concerned about real estate taxation.

To the editor:

Stockbridge town government represents the best interests of all residents, not merely a segment of the town. It is only through a concerted effort of the Select Board, the Finance Committee, the town administration including all town employees, and various committees that a responsible budget can be developed for presentation to a town meeting. It is a process which requires collegiality, analysis, and deliberation. Patrick White’s letter of April 23, 2024 suggests otherwise.

Of particular concern to me are incorrect facts, a lack of evaluation and assessment of the issues and conclusions which he presents.

Mr. White would have us believe that until he started his service on the Select Board in 2020, neither his predecessors in office or members of the Finance Committee were concerned about real estate taxation. In fact, long before 2020, Stockbridge town officials were concerned about the negative impact of deferring capital maintenance. As bridges were nearing collapse and public facilities nearing condemnation, the Select Board and the Finance Committee recommended a five-year capital budget to address deferred maintenance of these capital assets. For the first time, the other town began an aggressive program to seek grant income to supplement taxation and debt financing. This resulted in stopping kicking the proverbial can down the road. Mr. White played no role in undertaking these necessary corrective measures.

Faced with a $4 million in potential liability for retiree health benefits, the Finance Committee, under the guidance of the then chair, was instrumental in presenting a plan to fund this liability known as the Other Post Employment Liability (OPEB) Trust. Stockbridge is one of the few county municipalities that has taken this responsible position. We have now reached a level of funding that is determined by actuaries to be nearly complete. Mr. White wishes to withdraw assets from this fund to reduce the tax rate without any analysis of the impact of doing so. Until the fund actuary and town auditor provide a factual basis for drawing down this trust fund, no action should be taken.

Mr. White dismisses the impact on our borrowing costs as related to the increase in our bond rating. Once again, he suggests, without proof, that there is no benefit to the receipt of the AA+ rating. He was not present at the meetings with Standard & Poor’s that resulted in an increase of this rating. The then chairs of the Select Board and the Finance Committee in 2014 were present and played a role in this positive action. He seems to be unaware of the favorable comments made by S&P representatives regarding the creation of the OPEB Trust fund.

The COVID Stabilization Fund was initiated by the Finance Committee; approved by the Select Board, of which Mr. White was a member; and passed by the Town Meeting. It was developed after a risk analysis relating to the potential for decreases in tax revenues during the pandemic shutdown was conducted. Once it became clear that the funds would not be needed and the town’s finances were stable, they were released for other purposes.

Mr. White’s complaint was that a $50,000 reduction of the Reserve Fund was opposed without justification. That is not true, and the record of the meeting at which this was discussed reveals only a request for an analysis of the impact of this reduction before voting to do so. Once again, a simple request was made for documentation, which, when received, led to an affirmative recommendation to lower the reserve fund.

We should not lose sight of the fact that tax relief options are available through the town and state when an individual homeowner chooses to apply for them and presents proof of need.

In closing, I hope that we can expect more evaluative insights based on fact, analysis, and documentation from Mr. White.

Jay Bikofsky

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I write this response as a private citizen not in an official capacity as chairman of the Stockbridge Finance Committee.

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