LETTER: Town Councilor Explains His Position on the CPA Ballot Question


Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I’m writing you today to share why I have chosen to vote YES on Watertown’s Question 5 -the Community Preservation Act (CPA). I have changed my mind a couple of times on this one because people that I respect have expressed a lot of good concerns on the contrary. I thought about those concerns a lot but I always come back to the same place when I do and it really dawned on me when I recently attended the 2nd annual candlelight vigil for those lost to the substance use disorder epidemic in Watertown. A great young leader in Watertown rose to speak at the end of the event and made some gracious remarks to the attendees that ended with him professing his love for our town and referring to it as “4 square miles of pure heaven.” Naturally, the event provoked feelings about a lot of things but this comment really inspired me to remember why it is that I do the work I do for Watertown. In weeks since, I’ve looked across the school-yards, playing-fields and the Council chambers and realized that even though we don’t always all agree on every issue, we all really do love this town. With that, I ask you all, if you feel the same way, why can’t we agree that for the price of one mediocre bottle of wine a month, we can together invest in these important and often-overlooked matters?

In 2016, taxes went down for many home-owners in Watertown except the multi-family homes whose values are skyrocketing. The secret is out that our town is a great place to live. Despite this fact, the Town Council sought and was granted special permission from the state legislature last year to increase the residential owner-occupied exemption from 20% to 30% if we wanted to. We did not vote to play this card last year but we have in in our pocket should we ever need it (in fact, the legislature has now allowed all communities to do this). This mechanism, helps to make an out-of- pocket increase of 2% from the CPA a bearable increase given the great benefits it brings to the town. It also helps that if you’re a homeowner on a low-enough fixed-income, you’re eligible for a surcharge exemption. If you are a renter in a multi-family property and if the landlord decides to put the full burden of the tax increase on the tenants, then it should be diluted across the number of residential units in the property.

Furthermore, when I speak to renters in and around Watertown, I keep coming to the same conclusion about rents and that is that landlords charge whatever the market will allow and this is as much dictated by our neighboring towns as internal factors. So, yes, the year-to- year increases in taxes plus 2% from CPA would be a sacrifice but I feel that it is a worthwhile one that is a part of a greater earnest effort to really improve this town.

Regarding what projects would be funded

There has been a lot of chatter on the various town social media pages about this and a few calls on the councilors like me who are supporting the CPA to say what the new money would pay for. In other communities, you can often see signs on public places everywhere ‘this fine project paid for by CPA funds’ as a hint. Of course I have my favorite ideas but the eventual project nominations will only come to the town council via an appointed committee so not entirely up to me. Since you asked, I would love to see an affordable housing project built in town somewhere. If we had to acquire a privately-owned property to do it, that might be necessary and we could do one of these EVERY YEAR with the kind of money we’re talking about. I’d also like to see the Walker Pond property acquired, cleaned up and converted into a public use. This is an important resource to conserve and acquire before it is too late.

These were both aspirations of mine before the CPA came into discussion. Nevertheless, given our current plans, the first thing we’d need to do before these dreams would be to use the allowable CPA funding to pay for the ongoing needs that our capital improvement program (‘CIP’) would have already been paying for –like the overdue parks rehab at Victory or Fileppello, the annual monument restorations or the completion of the vitally-important Community Path project. Using CPA funds this way would free up space in the CIP for the eminent school master plan expenditures. An important piece to remember about the CIP is that this part of our annual budgeting is limited in that it can only arrive to 7.5-8% of our total budget (including debt paybacks).

So what about the schools?

I have been a vocal supporter of increased funding for our school department for the entirety of my short political life here. My kids are in these schools and me and my 3 siblings are products of them. I am committed to finding more money for the schools and to constantly improve on their governance, personnel and policies. I have demonstrated this with my active advocacy on the council, behind closed-doors and in my votes to aggressively increase funding over the past 3 budgets.

The members of our master planning committee have worked very hard this summer to identify the physical space needs for the next generation of Watertown youth and I know that we must find a way to support this expense. We also know that few school systems in Massachusetts can fund school building projects without the support of the Massachusetts School Building Administration (MSBA) paying 48% of the bill. So, for the last 3 years, Watertown has applied to and been rejected by the MSBA for financial assistance. Recently Belmont received this coveted MSBA support but this only happened after 10 unsuccessful years of proposals and with catastrophic damages incurred at one of their buildings to force the issue.

Next, no matter what the actual percentage will be, I see the money that comes from the state to match our CPA contributions as ‘found money’ that should not be turned away as it has been. As I said above, having CPA monies to cover the costs of eligible expenses will also help us to free up monies for the school building master plan. If and when the MSBA money comes, it will cover one building and the rest will need to come from bonds, tax revenue and from under every couch-cushion the town manager can turn over. You can bet the farm that he’d love to count on CPA money to offset maintenance expenses we’d otherwise be paying from CIP.

Speaking of maintenance… We are in the process of hiring a new school superintendent and business manager and our school facilities director has less than a year on the job. Five years ago, the UMass Collins Center for Public Management recommended that for more efficient operations, Watertown should consolidate its two facilities maintenance departments (schools and public works). Though many agree that this is a need, our department heads have barely started thinking about how to do it. When our school leadership traveled to Lexington this year to hear about what it takes to win an MSBA project, they were told that before the MSBA funds new facilities, it looks closely at how well a town takes care of the ones they have. So, I’d like to vote to put school building funding onto the ballot as soon as possible but in my opinion, the Master Plan and our School Department just aren’t ready to ask for it. We have a lot of work to do here and throwing the CPA under the bus today won’t help matters. We can and we should do BOTH.

Finally, I think that Watertown has a good, responsible leadership team and for the most-part, our town employees exhibit a deep-rooted service ethic and they appreciate how much their work affects people’s lives. I think that we don’t squander money and that we provide great services for the taxes that we pay. Yes, we can always stand to improve on things but our government is responsive to the residents that we serve and the elected officials here bust their tails every day to ensure it.

So, yes, this vote is yours to make but as your leader, I feel a sense of responsibility to lay out my reasoning for why my family and I are all voting this way. To help achieve all the goals that I committed to when I ran for office, I am asking you to consider these arguments and to trust in me and my colleagues to wisely spend this money on the important projects that matter to you. It is my job to pull out the stops to improve this community and I ask for your vote of confidence and for your investment in its future. These 4 square miles of heaven are well worth it.

If you’re interested in learning more about some examples of the kinds of projects the CPA might fund or just some simple Q&A on the whole issue, I urge you to check out this very succinct presentation and user-friendly website: www.investinwatertown.org

If you are with me on this and you feel so compelled to help with the effort, the same website has contact information for you and there are various important volunteer opportunities you could fill over the remaining days of the campaign. Every little bit helps.


Yours in service,
Aaron Dushku
Elmwood Ave, Watertown

7 thoughts on “LETTER: Town Councilor Explains His Position on the CPA Ballot Question

  1. But as our leader ??? Really Aaron…. is this North Korea ? Excuse me!
    That takes a lot of nerve. You’re a representative and public servant. You’re our employee son.

    You really have a lot of nerve to talk about a mediocre bottle of wine per month. No Aaron for many people it’s months electricity bill, it’s a weeks worth of groceries, one month’s auto insurance on an old car they can barely afford to keep on the road.

    And this Council won’t squander money? $800, 000 to buy a house so we can extend a bicycle path!

    As for projects the money will be spent on you haven’t answered the question. Again you give us vague generalities about we can do this, or we can do that….. Go to other communities and see their signs about how they’ve spent the money. That’s not what we asked for on Social Media.

    We don’t want to know the kinds of things the money can spent for. Some of us have actually read the legislation and that’s why we are so quick to respond to fiction you guys are writing. What specifically will you spend it on. Let’s assume you get $2 million in you special interest slush fund next year… Name the projects you want to spend the money on next year. How much will they cost? Will it entail eminent domain? Will you have to issue bonds to pay for it upfront ? What’s the time table for completion ? What’s impact on neighborhood? Just give us a list of 5 projects, with estimates and the details … the first 5 projects over say the first 2 or 3 years. But give us specifics.

    That is the way you spend taxpayer money properly Aaron, you don’t give a bunch of special interest groups, $2.2 million a year and tell them decide how to spend, especially if the final approval is the hands of some Town Councilors that don’t have he foggiest idea of how the Prop 2 1/2 Levy works, but want to waste the Council’s Time debating Supreme Court Cases, Nuclear Disarmament, and labor disputes in neighboring towns between private parties.

    Sorry, Aaron I don’t trust Councilors that don’t understand private property rights live and breath in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendments and are as Sacred as Freedom of Speech. And you know whom I’m speaking of. Frankly no you people don’t know the fundamentals of civics or purposes for which governments are formed deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

    So hell no people you people can’t be trusted with $2 million per year in mad money.
    You just proved you don’t know how to spend it Tuesday night by approving that boondoggle of an $800, 000 purchase.

    Sorry “Dear Leader” but if you’re going to write a letter purporting to answer questions you were asked, and then proceed to not answer them, you’ve asked for this kind of response.

    • Dear John,

      You’re right, I am a public servant and I serve this town and its residents every day. Its an honor I am proud of and the temporary nature of this arrangement is not one that is lost on me. Your point is taken though and thanks for keeping me humble.

      Speaking of leadership, I will take the bait on your comment on the Community Path because its not the first time its been brought up. The Council did not dream up this idea on its own. This has been discussed for years by visionary and forward-thinking residents and we’re responding. We’re responding because enough of us can now see coming the catastrophic culmination of Henry Ford’s dreams coming true. The public has been subsidizing parking and roads for generations to the point that owning and driving a car is now viewed in America as a God-given right. In Watertown, the bike paths have been paid for by a wonderfully-creative approach that’s brought in state monies, private grants and mitigation monies from private developers. Its more than alright that occasionally the town pays for these as we have a thousand times over to support our other more inefficient modes of transportation. Its you who needs to wake up and see the reality of on this one, my friend. If more people like you opened their eyes and minds to the matter, they’d realize that allowing more people safer ways to get around would actually benefit the ones of us who need to drive cars because each of those annoying cyclists is one less car clogging up our roads. Take a gander at any number of urban planning documents or research by economists on the true cost to individuals and to society of a car-centric culture and you might notice the trend now seen in cities all over the world. Taking leadership on this matter is what the council and the town’s planning and public works staff is trying to do and I’m proud of it. Actually, many argue that we should have just plowed the path through the square regardless of the loss of parking spots and that the town should not be using up prime real estate anywhere for free car parking (what we pay at the meter is NOT even close to the full cost).

      As for the CPA arguments, I am sorry that you feel so let down by the legislation and by our inability to give you firm promises as to the projects that it would fund. I feel that I’ve made my case on some of the issues you and others have raised. I think that my perspective is a vaulable one to consider and I’ve shared it. I do respect your experience and your right to disagree and the voters do ultimately make the call on this one. Thank for your spirited comments. I know that they come from the right place.

      • Aaron…. Thank you for finally exposing your motives…. It is clear in your language about “societies being car centric” that you view your role as councilor to one of a Social Engineer with a master plan to force people to live the way you believe they should live.

        Well sorry, that is not what role is, nor is it the role of any public official. You’re role as councilor is to worry about the general operation of municipal services, not to reshape Watertown or society. We don’t elect nannies.

        • John, you are really blowing smoke now. I am personally aware of Councillor Dushku’s efforts to reduce traffic in Watertown. Everyone in town complains about the traffic. And with development ongoing, the problem threatens to get worse. Councillor Dushku has been on the case, on a number of fronts, for a variety of reasons ranging from environmental to quality of life for Watertown residents.

          Does he want to be your nanny? No sir, no one would want to take on that job. Is Aaron a forward thinking problem solver for the residents of Watertown. Yes, he is, and I can tell you because I know him that he is devoted to Watertown, loves the town deeply and works very hard for all of us. I think that his analysis of our problems is much more correct than yours. You can disagree, but I wish you would cut out the personal insults. To refer a grown man and devoted public as “son” is demeaning and makes you look immature.

  2. “Dear Leader. . .North Korea” This is further evidence that the debate on CPA has gotten disrespectful and unhinged. Councillor Dushku is a gentleman, a thoughtful man and a devoted public servant. He deserves to be treated with more respect than this. So does Councilor Falkoff. However I am certain that they would treat Mr. DiMascio with much greater respect than this, despite what DiMascio has said. This debate has turned into a disgrace to the town. Stop dragging Watertown through the muck.

  3. Quoting Joseph Levendusky above: “This is further evidence that the debate on CPA has gotten disrespectful and unhinged. … This debate has turned into a disgrace to the town. Stop dragging Watertown through the muck.”

    I’m really sad and worried about the personally insulting and judgmental tone this disagreement has taken on. We’re all going to have to work TOGETHER after 11/8 to improve our schools, with or without the CPA. Let’s not burn bridges in our relationships with each other. That will make it harder for all of us to attain our goals of improving the total quality of life in Watertown.

  4. Ilana, You’re correct that its gotten disrespectful and unhinged. What is most bothersome is what the opponents of the CPA, who want to put the school’s first and a group of concerned homeowners being called ‘reflexive ant-taxers” Skullduggery’ Snookersers” And that’s just what I can print here. Why are opponents being asked to prove anything? We have gone on the record. in print and on TV, and a signed petition committing we will do whatever ever it takes to fix the schools. Not one proponent will go on record of same. This is from one of the biggest CPA proponents, trying to scare and intimidate a group called Watertown Strong Schools, who had the audacity to not object the the CPA per sey, but the TIMING of it. You don’t hear that from CPA opponents, yet we are somehow the ones being accused of being inflammatory?? There are people not being completely truthful about the ramifications of this. Period. I I compete every day on the business field of battle. I would enjoy a lot of short term success if I didn’t tell clients the downside too. Please, I would love to hear what you think and deduce from this missive “CPA proponents will be “less inclined to support an override” Really? how mature is that? It reads, in full ” I’m afraid that this misconceived opposition is based on the mistaken assumption that the reflexive anti-taxers in Watertown will somehow change their stripes and vote for a school bond override if CPA is voted down. I’m sorry to say that the WSS leadership seems to have been snookered by the anti-taxers which puts both the CPA and a bond override in jeopardy as it will make many CPA supporters less inclined to help WSS win a vote for an override. Both are important initiatives for the community and with this artful bit of political skullduggery the anti-taxers will have gotten all they wanted leaving the rest of the town holding a very empty bag. It is classic divide and conquer tactics.

    I urge the leadership of WSS and my friend (redacted) to reconsider their ill considered opposition, take down their signs, and join forces to get both these initiatives passed for the good of the whole community’ Howz that for agreeing to work together after 11/8?? I would really enjoy your take as good friends of mine and I are being burned in effigy about town because we are have very real concerns there isn’t an appetite for both, CPA Proponents are entitled to many things. The personal feeling and beliefs of others aren’t among them

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