Chariho School Parents’ Forum

March 3, 2009

Open Space at the HTC meeting

Filed under: Hopkinton Town Council — Editor @ 12:47 am

I don’t plan to comment on HTC meetings because the videos are posted online, but tonight’s meeting had a discussion on an Open Space bond to be placed on the ballot – and quite frankly I was surprised how quickly something like this can go from the pitch to it being approved for the ballot. Here is what happened:

We received a presentation asking us to place a question on the ballot for $2 million to purchase open space. (I will scan and post the presentation tomorrow)  The presentation said the town would save money by making this investment. As an example they cited a 13 home development (Deer something) and used the assumption of an average of 1.37 children per home.  Using the average property tax (approx $4000) and the average cost per child at Chariho – $14,225 (actually 10,000 town money and 4000 state money), the reasoning was that each home actually costs the town over $10,000  (1.37 children X $10,000 for chariho = $13,700 expenses against $4000 property taxes collected – thus they say we lose about $10k per new home built).  So they proposed (and the TC accepted) that we spend $2 million to purchase land to keep developers from building so that we can save money.

Here are my concerns –

We currently have about 1200 students at charhio – and 8000 people in town that I estimating to be in 3600 households.  That means we have 1 child for every 3 houses.  Not 1.37 children per house.

By my math, if the average property tax is 4000 and we have 1 child per 3 homes, that means we collect 12,000 in property taxes for every $10,000 we send to Chariho. 

The response was that this 1.37 number is the average for a home built as described in the Deer project (3-4 bedroom, 2+ bath). 

So then I guess I have to ask – why don’t we just make a “no-kids zone” so new developers don’t bring in those potential Chariho students?  (by the way, I would vote against that too)  But at least it wouldn’t cost us $2 million.

Besides, we can’t buy up all the land to prevent family type homes from being built.  Are we going to chase around developers and purchase the land just before they decide to buy it?  How much land would we need to protect to get this done?  Well that brings me to the next very surprising point. 

We currently have 32% of the land protected under “short term” measures (I think they are 15 yr deals – but you can see it on the video).  We have another 17% in permanent restriction.  They say the temp stuff doesnt count, but as of today 49% of our land is restricted from development.

Anyone who has the slightest acceptance of the power of supply and demand has to ask if this has an impact on land prices ??? – half of our land is off the market, how could it NOT impact prices?

My other problem with this proposal is that it assumes a housing pressure that we need to remedy.  We don’t have a housing pressure – we have several empty houses and new construction that remains unsold – call it a housing vacuum.   I just don’t see the fear of a big new development coming into town.

They responded that a future situation would be different – and it might, but why take out a loan now for something we don’t need until later?

Their response was that land is cheap now – a good time to buy it (with other people’s money).

On a side note, isn’t it interesting to see what lengths a town must go to so that they may adjust to the behemoth monopoly that controls our budget (Chariho).  We are trying to restrict young growing families because they cost too much.  Is that really what we are? Come to Hopkinton – where we cost/benefit our citizens.

Anyway, I brought this up because a friend once told me that she usually voted for referenda because if the town council bothered to put it on the ballot, it was probably worth voting for.  So by putting it on the ballot without a signature drive suggests that the council supports it. 

Long and short of it – and you can see it on the video – I voted against placing this on the ballot and asked the group to go out and get the 200 signatures.  I figured if they could get 200 signatures, at least that would show some buy-in from the town. But I would still vote against it.

Of course, the presentation ended as they always do, “this will only cost X cents per thousand on the taxes and this is only $32 for the average home.”  I recall Chariho saying something like that. 

Death by one thousand papercuts.   

PS.  Tom Buck outlined $2.1 million in debt we are currently servicing and noted the $2.8 in the new firehouse.  Total $4.9 million currently on loan – and we want another $2 m to keep out Chariho students.  Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture?  We need the young people to pay all these debts or we will just have to increase what we collect from each other !!!!!

Someone please let me know if I’m missing something, but I just don’t understand why we are trying to spend $2 million on this.



  1. Disappointing to hear of this initiative. Government should not be speculating on land or any other private enterprise. There can be no doubt that government interference in the real estate market has consequences, and almost always negative consequences.

    Since they insist on forecasing the future, what if this land could have been converted to business use 100 years down the road? No houses…no children…just taxpaying businesses. How much would we have lost by owning the land?

    I’m also discouraged because regardless of the legitimacy of the Chariho numbers, the Town Council’s acceptance of the numbers as fact indicates to me the Town Council majority doesn’t see any other future option other than continuing to pay Chariho an arm and a leg for education. I would have hoped they would be giving school choice serious thought and along with choice would be a significant decrease in per pupil costs to the town. Since the whole exercise was about “what ifs”, why would they exclude what if school choice unless they don’t see it as a viable option?

    Spending other people’s money on “open space” is usually too alluring for the majority of voters to resist. This land grab will likely be approved. Maybe we should canvass the town looking for homes with 3 or more school aged children. We can then offer to purchase these homes and then board them up. Think of all the money we could save. I’ve been looking for a way to get out of this town. Maybe I can come up with a presentation which will convince Hopkinton’s Town Council to buy my house?

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 3, 2009 @ 11:10 am | Reply

  2. It sounds like there is a process in place to have open space land purchased without the approval of the TC. If so, then let this process be followed. If there is not a process in place, then the discussion should first and foremost be is the TC the proper venue to decide “yes lets put this on the ballot”, and if not then a process neeeds to be established.
    My overriding concern is favoritism toward a property connected to a TC member through friendship or vice versa, and personal gain(an abutting property) from such a decision.

    If I promise to sell my house to a non child family or person, then why would the town not provide me some incentive(tax break, rebate, etc) as well, or why don’t we just use a well known US Senator’s platform, and only welcome childless people to our town and give incentives to citizens who would move here without children. Once again I see government entities trying to manipulate markets outside the normal market forces……one of the main reason’s our economy has collapsed.

    Comment by RS — March 3, 2009 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  3. It’s always bothered me that families moving to a town (a sign of a healthy, attractive place to live, I think) are often viewed in southern RI as a burden to bear, or as “threat” to a “traditional rural lifestyle”.

    Comment by david — March 3, 2009 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  4. I agree with both RS and David. Government should not view citizens as a burden. It should not be the role of government to pick losers and winners, although admittedly it may be too late to stop it. Figure out a way (school choice) to control Chariho, the real problem. Don’t deny families the chance for their American dream.

    A number of years ago Hopkinton changed zoning so a 2-acre lot was required for new home construction. The attitude of “I have mine” reigns supreme as local government now denies young families the same opportunities most of us had. The acquisition of “open space” is another tool wielded to deny families the chance for homeownership.

    I can’t help but wonder if this is all part of the “Smart Growth” movement? From what I know of Smart Growth I detest the concept. Ironically it is usually the liberals promoting this strategy which would result in greater separation of the “haves” from the “have nots”. How very liberal of them.

    Basically Smart Growth puts an end to homeownership in rural areas while forcing the “masses” into high density urban areas. Of course the elites will have access to the rural areas as they will have the resources. The rest will be priced out of any real chance to live outside their designated zones.

    I can’t imagine the Hopkinton Town Council majority is in cahoots with the Smart Growth crowd, but I do think they may be unwitting accomplices. Smart Growth is an offshoot of socialism and the ideology has crept into mainstream thinking with even well intentioned people not noticing. Local government buying up developable land is sure to make the socialists happy. The less private property, the less freedom for us all.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 3, 2009 @ 12:54 pm | Reply

  5. I was thinking on this topic. If the TC feels reas estate is such a bargain, why don’t they purchase all the good deals in town, then when the prices go up, sell them to people without children, then the coffers will be overflowing. The windfall from the real estate deal & the new taxpayers not requiring schools will mean more tax revenues.

    Why didn’t I think of this plan.

    Comment by RS — March 3, 2009 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  6. How about more retirement housing in Town for seniors and use the current stock of housing for people with children. This way older people can still live in town and the current stock just replaces those with children with those with children (as others move on).

    Comment by Freda — March 3, 2009 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

  7. I know RS posted his “plan” tongue in cheek. Unfortunately some people take this stuff seriously and begin to believe government can replace free markets by planning housing and manipulating real estate markets. This is dangerous stuff.

    Whenever government sticks its nose into markets things go horribly wrong. Politicians do not have the foresight, and who does, to anticipate the consequences of their socialist actions. Free markets work because when we each act in our own interests their is a balance, i.e., I buy a house I value for a price the seller values. We both end up happy. Government doesn’t operate this way. When government involves itself in markets there is always a winner and a loser, i.e. one party is happy and one party is unhappy.

    The end result of all this meddling is a failing economy. I know I’ve over simplified, but history is littered with failed societies where government tried to run every facet of human existence. Please stop thinking of the government as your mom or dad. Government does not care about you.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 3, 2009 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

  8. Hi!
    I plan to be there tonight at the Chariho Budget Meeting. The Hopkinton Republican Town Committee meets on the third Sunday of the month at the Hopkinton Police Station at 7:00 P.M.,. It will be interesting if either Democratic or Republican Town Committee in Hopkinton or any of the other two towns takes a stand on the school budget. Usually they don’t but that can change.The head of the Hopkinton Republicans is Ken Mott, 401-688-7140; and I do not know if Vinnie Cordone is still head of Hopkinton Democrats?
    Fire protection in Hopkinton is financed by fire districts that have the power to levy taxes,.The Ashaway Fire District is the third Thursday in July. Usually always starting at 6:30 P.M.,as I recall. Make note of it. In the Ashaway district qualified voters are registered voters and those who do not live in the district but still pay taxes in it. I believe the same is true for the Hope Valley-Wyoming Fire District. That district includes parts of Hopkinton and Richmond.
    Scott Bill Hirst
    Vice Chairman, Hopkinton Republican Town Committee
    Member,Board of Fire Commissioners,Ashaway Fire District

    Comment by Scott Bill Hirst — March 3, 2009 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

  9. These are difficult times and none us need to be reminded of that.

    We have elected officials both on the tri town councils and school committees that face critical decisions. We can only hope that they bring much to the table regarding their knowledge of the past which has got up to this point, in Chariho’s case the past 50 years of mistakes and budget disappointments/miscalculations/mismanagements.

    Can someone else do better (?), That is up to the Councils to decide. To the tri towns that lack of funds for their communities to provide a viable Town Hall and municipal government, its time to get back our towns and its students. Its time for an audit and to ask why a close to $5 million over run in the past few years has happened.

    In closing, to all elected officials thanks but start asking the questions for your tri towns.

    I wish all elected officials well and hope they ask the ‘pointed questions’. Why and how much!

    Comment by james hirst — March 3, 2009 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

  10. If this gets to a referendum question, I will vote no. It seems absurd for me to vote for open space when I voted against the Chariho bonds. That would make me question my own intellectual capacity.

    I understand that people have a right to vote on such issues, but what is the priority right now. Who in their right mind is going to develop land at this particular time, when property values have plummeted, and the foreclosure market is right for those who can afford that route.

    Seems silly to me.

    Comment by Lois Buck — March 4, 2009 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  11. I’m all for saving the town money and using whatever means deemed necessary in order to achieve this goal. However, I think a well thought out long term plan needs to be developed in order to achieve this goal. Buying one property with only one presentation on the effectiveness of this purchase to actually change the cost structure at Chariho is akin to throwing darts. There are many unanswered questions about such a proposal and the actual cost savings to the town. In theory, our taxes could actually rise under such a plan. With little or no land to develop, the only real estate to purchase would be existing homes whose value would rise(assuming buyers) hence increasing our taxes irregardless of the budget.
    I have to wonder about the rush and the viability of the plan as presented to the TC, I remeber when the TC hired a certain appraisal company who butchered the statistical reevaluation. This is the same company who who has been in the news recently causing disruption of other RI towns.

    Comment by RS — March 4, 2009 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  12. If I understand the bill 3050 that was passed some 2 plus years ago, RS is correct for the reason he states. Also, if the land is on the tax roll and then set aside under farm, forest and open space, it comes off the tax rolls thereby increasing everyone’s taxes to make up the difference. The town would be able to increase the total tax by what ever percent it is for that year but there is less property to tax, who makes up the difference? That’s right, all of the other taxpayers.

    Comment by CharihoParent — March 4, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  13. I believe the thinking CP is that the savings from Chariho would be greater than the loss of tax revenue….maybe it would, but the presnetation given wasn’t complete enough to determine if this will indeed be true and these assumptions involve looking forward with guesstimates.

    Comment by RS — March 4, 2009 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

  14. Either way is truly a guesstimate. You don’t know how many homes would be built and purchased by families that would have children and if they would put them in the Chariho school system. Only thing that can be done is guess.

    Comment by CharihoParent — March 4, 2009 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  15. I would not be guessing with $2 mil of my hard earned cash, but I guess thats the rub, it’s not hard earned money their spending.

    Comment by RS — March 4, 2009 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  16. An interesting read here on our very topic…..hmmm.

    Comment by RS — March 4, 2009 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

  17. Another……my mind might be changing….with further study and analysis of course.

    Comment by RS — March 4, 2009 @ 11:15 pm | Reply

  18. More:

    Close to home:

    Coupled with other measures(vouchers, etc) this might actually do some good. The caveat being keeping the NEA’s hands out of the cookie jar. The other wrench thrown in the gears is the ability of “Chari” to easily negate any gains we make, this is one area where reduced enrollment(vouchers) might help.

    Comment by RS — March 4, 2009 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

  19. I’m not prepared to argue that government purchase of open space costs us money. My argument against it is twofold. One of the bedrocks of this country is private property rights. When we allow government to purchase private property and place it in the public realm, we are limiting the private property options of future generations.

    My second concern is the impact on families when we decrease the places available for them to settle. Smart Growth (or it may be Smart Grow) envisions a society where the masses are forced into high density conclaves in urban areas. Of course existing properties will still be available, but as we know with supply and demand, the cost of owning property in a rural towns such as Hopkinton will go through the roof. When this happens, only the chosen few will have the resources to raise their families removed from all the problems of high density, urban living.

    Sadly, even people like RS end up supporting government takeover of private property because it saves us money. This is just one more example of the damage caused by runaway government spending…with Chariho being our prime example in these parts. Throwing our hands up because we can’t win the fight to reduce government and lessen tax burdens, we end up supporting the further encroachment of government into areas where they don’t belong.

    Honestly I have no clue what negative impact there is to a town buying up private property, but this I do know, when government gets involved in free markets it never ends up solving anything. I can predict with virtual certainty it will cause many more problems…I’m just not sure what those problems may be.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 5, 2009 @ 12:57 am | Reply

  20. Hi!
    As a suggestion what should be considered is two sections for this web site: Education and General Government. This because most of it is education and it is probably best to separate the listing of the two topics. At times they may overlap.
    Note The Chariho Times editorial support for Bill Felkner.

    Comment by Scott Bill Hirst — March 5, 2009 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  21. I thank Bill Felkner for a number of things that he’s done in town over time, but in this case more specifically for bringing the proposed Hopkinton Open Space bond question to the fore in this forum. One of the problems of local government is the sparse participatory discussions of local problems and solutions. This site serves that important function.

    But I’m surprised at what appears to be Bill’s opposition to the proposal being on the ballot without 200 petition signatures being presented to the Council for that to occur. And doubly surprised at his opposition to a proposal that if approved will serve the people of Hopkinton well both now and for generations to come.

    I watched on TV the presentation that the Land Trust made in seeking to have the bond put on the ballot, but unfortunately the audio was really poor and I’m not sure about what was said.

    But judging from Bill’s posting here, he questions the claim that developments of the sort described in the presentation end up costing the town money because the cost of educating the kids in the development exceeds the tax revenues from the development.

    While cost is only one factor in the desireability of preserving open space, it seemed to be a significant component of the discussion. In fact, at one point I thought I heard Bill say that he wouldn’t vote for the open space bond because it would increase town taxes, contrary to what the Land Trust presentation found.

    That discrepancy is because Bill assumed in his calculations that if a development of homes with 3-4 bedrooms and 1-1/2 or 2 bathrooms were built in Hopkinton there would be on average one child for every three houses. That’s roughly about what the child density is now for the current total Hopkinton housing inventory.

    The Land Trust in its calculation assumed there would be 1.37 children in each house, or about four children in every three houses. If Bill had used that figure in his calculation he would have predicted an annual $28,000 tax deficit rather than a $2,000 annual tax surplus for every three houses. So it is important to know where the numbers for the expected child density in a new development of 3-4 bedroom houses came from.

    Bill got his estimate by dividing the number of Hopkinton children in the Chariho system by his estimate of the number of dwelling units in Hopkinton. As noted above, that provided a reasonable number for the current density of school children in the total Hopkinton housing inventory.

    According to a Land Trust spokesperson, the Land Trust child density figure came from an actual enumeration of the number of children in a new development of 3-4 bedroom houses in Hopkinton in 2003. That seems like a more appropriate metric, because people with kids obviously need houses with more bedrooms

    The figures from both Bill and the Land Trust are likely not 100% accurate. Bill used an estimate as input to calculating his estimate and the Land Trust used exact but six year old data from one recent (at the time) development in Hopkinton. But common sense tells us that generally people with kids or people who intend to have kids are more likely to buy 3-4 bedroom houses than people without kids who don’t intend to have kids. And that is consistent with the actual house-by-house count made in Hopkinton.

    While neither the Bill Felkner or the Land Trust estimate is right on the money, there is no doubt that the Land Trust is much closer to the mark. And if that is the case, open space protection is indeed a tax saver.

    Tax considerations, while important, are not the only factor to be taken into account when deciding about open space. The more one looks into it the more apparent it becomes that there are many factors to consider. Fortunately, there is a lot of information readily available on the Internet.

    Poster RS in Comments 16, 17 and 18 above has listed some good sources of information on the subject, and I’ve found more than I have time to read by googling “open space preservation “ or “open space economics”. You’ll find data from all over the country for all kinds of situations, and in the vast majority of cases open space preservation has proven to be a boon.

    This posting addresses only the tax aspect of open space preservation. It would take very little time or effort to review some of the sites identified by RS in Comments 16, 17 and 18 and it will make anyone who does that a well informed voter on all aspects of open space preservation. Googling will accomplish the same thing but might take a little longer.

    Thurman Silks

    Comment by Thurman Silks — March 9, 2009 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  22. Thurm,
    I appreciate the input. But if it saves the town money not to have homes that attract families with children, then why don’t we just make it part of the charter rather than spending tax dollars to buy up the land?

    Comment by Bill Felkner — March 9, 2009 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  23. Wouldn’t putting such language into any town charter be a form of discrimination?

    Comment by CharihoParent — March 9, 2009 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

  24. I watched the presentation tonight. The audio was fine on my computer.

    Regarding the tax calculation, I tend to agree with Mr. Silk’s view that new housing with 3 to 4 bedroom would attract families with children, but I do think there is an error with the Land Trust’s calculations.

    As Mr. Felkner has pointed out when discussing school choice, if we went the way of vouchers they would not be for $14,000 per child which is the current cost of an inferior Chariho education. If I’m not mistaken, the town actually pays $8,000 to $10,000 per child, with the rest coming from our money taken by the state and federal being partially returned in education aid. The proper calculation would be based on Hopkinton’s cost per student, not the $14,000 figure.

    I have to admit the thought of open space is awfully appealing. I don’t recall any kind of open space bond or vote ever being rejected at any level…state or local. Obviously buying land with other people’s money is too hard to resist, especially when it results in what seems to be only positive outcomes. My objections are philosophical as previously enunciated. I don’t like the thought of government buying up private property.

    Maybe Mr. Felkner hit on something when he suggests amending the charter (or changing zoning). Maybe rather than buying land we pass a local ordinance or charter change outlawing development. We can then vote to spend other people’s money compensating land owners for the value they lose on their property when it is encumbered by new rules? We can maintain open space while still leaving private property intact.

    I’m sure the open space bond will pass. Nickel and dime government spending for open space is too attractive even with a difficult economic climate. Unfortunately all these nickels and dimes add up to quarters and dollars. A thousand needle pricks is an effective strategy…no doubt about it. I wish I could still be alive in a hundred years to see if my great-great-great grandchildren are living in a free society. I fear they will be on the 10th floor of a housing project in Warwick with government elites sleeping in my bedroom.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 10, 2009 @ 12:00 am | Reply

  25. I dunno CR, if we are to give money to landowners for lost value, then why wouldn’t we just buy the land outright? I could see every single land owner in Hopkinton “selling” their property just to get the compensation from the taxpayers. In a sense we already do this through farm/forest open space tax incentives.
    As a landowner, how do you receive money for lost value when the value keeps changing.
    I am in agreement with you about too much gov’t intrusion, but this seems more intrusive than just an outright purchase. I am also in agreement about spending the taxpayers money to buy property, but I don’t see a solution of getting the gov’t out of our schools and pockets to solve this issue, so i’m inclined to give the open space theory a fair review.

    I do have one other solution(for me), someone please buy my home so I can take my misery elswhere. I am going to FL for a month and will be looking at places to relocate while I am there, I figure the lack of state tax, the lower overall property tax and the lack of nickel and dime fees will allow me to put my kids in private school with only a small noticeable difference in take home pay. Now if I could only find a buyer.

    Comment by RS — March 10, 2009 @ 10:28 am | Reply

  26. I can’t disagree RS as I don’t know enough about the benefits. I am very uncomfortable with government interjecting itself into free markets. Add to that they are buying up private property which is fundamental to our freedom and liberty. Perhaps open space is one of the few things government can do right?

    I did some research on Smart Grow back when Hopkinton RI Speaks was around. The concept was elitist. I see the acquisition of open space being in line with Smart Grow as the less private propety the more families who will be forced into high density urban housing. It’s always easy to say “I have mine and I don’t give a darn about everyone else”, but I can’t bring myself to think this way.

    I think Mr. Felkner had it right in expecting the Land Trust to put forth the effort to get 200 signatures. Based on what I’ve seen with open space, they should be able to get 200 signatures in an hour. I like the fact Mr. Felkner stuck to his philosophy on taxing. If the town citizens choose to increase their tax burden at least Mr. Felkner won’t be facilitating the increases.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 10, 2009 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

  27. […] Bill Felkner @ 4:29 pm Does it strike anyone else as odd that we (Hopkinton) will be voting on a $2million dollar bond to purchase land so as to restrict housing developments because they attract young families that […]

    Pingback by Huh? « Chariho School Parents’ Forum — June 1, 2009 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

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