As I observe and continue to participate in the debate between supporters and opponents of Question 5 (which proposes adoption of the Community Preservation Act by Watertown), I detect at least one salutary outcome. Look at all the publicity we have generated in helping define the public interest!
I support voting YES on Question 5. I admire the heartfelt dedication of its opponents from Watertown Strong Schools (WSS), but wince under their “friendly fire.” I consider it needlessly alarmist for voices within WSS to advocate putting off Community Preservation Act adoption in 2016 – for what, another 11 years? Talk to anyone in the Conservation Commission and you will hear that such adoption is outrageously overdue. How long will it take us to complete Filippello Park? Thirty-four years so far – and counting! How long to attain the required statewide minimum of 10% affordable housing stock? How much longer to watch our archives and memorials crumble into oblivion? Waiting to adopt the Community Preservation Act has cost us at least $15 million in lost opportunities since 2005. Meanwhile, urban development continues to diminish further opportunities to acquire land, and increases the cost of doing so.
The alarmist element of WSS has gone so far as to state that “Schools First is more than just a slogan, it’s a moral obligation and the right thing to do.” I don’t feel particularly well positioned to engage in a “Holier Than Thou” contest on any subject. Rather, the current debate on Question 5 seems to me more one of risk analysis. Those WSS members who plan to vote against Question 5, some no doubt regretfully, fear that if we adopt the Community Preservation Act next month we weaken our incentive to support a tax override for schools improvement in the near future. Question 5 supporters believe that the citizenry will rise to the occasion for both causes. Call it a choice between Fear and Faith – whether our community will take extra steps for the public interest more than once in the same generation of voters. If there’s morality in this choice, it belongs equally to both points of view.
Watertown Strong Schools enjoys one particularly compelling reason to relax its fears of tax-payer revolt when the time comes for it to pass the hat – the forthright support of those who usually oppose new taxes on principle. Back in 2005, it was primarily their opposition that defeated Watertown’s first Community Preservation Act initiative. This group, loosely gathered under the Property Rights/No New Taxes banner, has drawn a clear distinction between what it terms WSS “needs” and CPA “wants.” With the support of this self-appointed fiscal watchdog, Watertown Strong Schools should have little opposition to fear. Consider too, that those who support Community Preservation Act adoption are the natural allies of WSS – and there are many of us out there. As tax-payers they can be counted on to reaffirm their support of the public interest on such an important community concern as its schools, whenever that need arises. We can all afford to vote YES now on Question 5!
Watertown Conservation Commission member (since 2005)