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Select Board incumbents Maiore, Minar grapple with fiscal risks

Incumbents Rich Maiore and Kara Minar are running unopposed for new three-year terms on the Select Board.

Maiore was elected to the board in the fall of 2018 to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Ken Swanton. He grew up in Harvard, graduated from the Bromfield School, and moved back to town 16 years ago. He served on the Economic Development Committee for six years.

Minar was first elected to the Select Board in 2017 and is running for her second term. She previously served on the Planning Board for about 10 years altogether, with a break between terms. She has lived in Harvard for 16 years.

Rich Maiore. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz).

Maiore sees revenue in Ayer Road development

What do you consider the most serious challenge facing Harvard?

To me it’s a twofold challenge. One is, we are living beyond our means. And second is senior flight. A critical part of our town is finding it’s too expensive to live here. And I find that unacceptable. … I have not seen a plan on how to grow revenue in this town, beyond the property tax. We have to sell a revenue plan to the town, as well as asking how can we possibly cut costs but not services. It’s a tricky proposition.

The issue of senior flight is something that you can account for because of the property taxes or the lack of housing options—not being able to downsize to something that’s smaller, but it’s still affordable.

What do you think the town should do to prepare for the fiscal crisis in 2021?

Right now we have to close potentially a million-dollar deficit, based on the best guesses of the town administrator. So the first priority is, what’s the Band-Aid we use to cover that? The second point is, what’s our long-term strategy here? We are systemically spending more than we have. This is not sustainable. And we cannot continue to pay for things on the backs of our seniors.

Do you think the free cash could be used for fiscal 2021 to solve the immediate problem?

It can be, but whether it should be is the question. The Finance Committee is certainly advocating, in my understanding, not to use free cash. I’m on the Budget Working Group with Alice [von Loes-ecke], and we’re looking at options that would not involve taking free cash—the benefits change [for retirees and noncontract employees], not hiring teacher positions. We can address the shortfall without having to use free cash. But I do want to sit down with the Finance Committee this week and understand what are the pros and cons for using free cash and why can’t we?

What could the town do to expand its tax base in the way that you think would be beneficial?

You know, we tried this year to figure out a way with the Transfer Station and the recycling program. And it would have worked except the recycling market pricing dropped off.

I think we can look at our bylaws on how we can attract businesses to the C-district [commercial district] that are the kind of services that residents want, and avoid some of the negatives that they don’t want, like more traffic. There are businesses out there—assisted living facilities, senior living facilities, small pharmacies—that can raise revenue and that have far more benefits than downside in terms of traffic and noise and things like that. We have numerous vacant buildings in the C-district. And our bylaws are arcane, they’re dated, and we need to loosen those up to make it easier for companies to do business in Harvard. It won’t solve all our ills, but it will generate tax revenue for the town.

And the reason I call this out is, I hear people say Harvard needs to stay rural. I agree. It needs to stay rural. I don’t want it to change much. But we have to adapt with the times. So to pay for the things we want—open space, services, the good schools—we have to diversify our revenue. Putting our head in the sand and saying we want to stay rural will not work.

Groton has acres and acres of open space, but they have a vibrant and sustainable business community that enables the town to pay for all the open space. I refuse to believe that the way the C-district is developed is the best we can do, in the kind of businesses that we want, in the connectivity of being able to walk from the post office to Dunkin’ Donuts or up to Sorrento’s.

I don’t want to be the next Westford, like that stretch of road that’s very crowded and oversized. That’s not Harvard to me. A better model is Groton, so we have a defined C-district that’s connected, that’s safe, and has services that the town residents want.

Kara Minar. (Courtesy photo)

Minar sees need to plan for Devens disposition

What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for the town?

Obviously the biggest challenge ahead is dealing with the fiscal impact of the pandemic. And then our long-term structural deficits. And how are we going to diversify Harvard’s tax base?

In the short term we have to deal with the override and what are going to be giant holes in our state funding. We have to try to do that in the most fair and balanced way we can, and leave Harvard on solid footing for its municipal workers and for teachers and firefighters and police.

But I also think of the structural deficit side. You know, when we look at Ayer Road, there’s only a little over 400 acres available for commercial development. And with the infrastructure that it would take such as water and sewer to make it viable, I’m not sure that [the commercial district] is going to address the structural deficits going down the road from here.

So I think this is a critical time to assess what the Devens disposition will be, and to educate people about what some of the opportunities and the challenges are. And also to keep pushing the state to get on board with making a decision. It’s only a little over 10 years away from what was supposed to be the final disposition date.

That’s an interesting point. The whole Devens issue has not been discussed much lately.

Yeah, for some reason or other, it seems like the effort and the momentum have slowed. And 10 years is a very short time. It goes by pretty quickly. But on the plus side, I think more and more people are recognizing that those historic lands would be a terrific benefit to Harvard on several different levels.

I think we need to figure out what the state’s plan is going forward. Because at this point, the way MassDevelopment has gone about this process, I don’t personally have a lot of confidence that they intend to turn those lands over in 2032. And it concerns me that MassDevelopment hasn’t made the proper moves to construct a pathway for transition.

In the financial crisis that you identified, how do you think the town should use its free cash, if at all?

I don’t disagree with the suggestion that Worth [Robbins] has brought up. [See page 5.] And I wish he had brought it up a little bit sooner. But of course, none of us had a crystal ball to see the snowballing effect that this pandemic would have on our finances. It’s a time to be sensitive to residents’ concerns and the financial insecurity that we all feel. We ought to figure out a way to alleviate this as best we can with the resources we already have in our coffers to help cushion the blow.

What has surprised you about being on the Select Board, either positively or negatively?

I think on planning boards, you really had to do a lot of your own research. And it was a much more hands-on experience in many regards. The Select Board is more an executive position—you are presented with sometimes very difficult decisions that affect a lot of people. And that can be a terrific thing, when you’re doing something that you feel really good about. Then there’s other times where it’s just a terrible decision, and you have to make the best of it, and decide with your conscience what’s best for the whole town.

The insurance decision [to increase the retirees’ and town employees’ share of premiums] was definitely one of those. I just really am not keen on seeing retirees who have had planning in place for their insurance to suddenly see an enormous change in their payment. So those are the kinds of things that you worry about quite a bit.

Well, this is a year we’re just trying to keep our heads above water, and it’s a wise time to bring everything back down to a smaller existence. But the Finance Committee didn’t go back to any of those people that were looking for new dump trucks or police cars or whatever and say, “Look, this year, you’re going to have to get another year on that vehicle.” It’s not that I don’t agree with their need. I’m asking them to make do for another year until we get a clearer understanding of how this is going to play out.


Interviews were edited for style, length, and clarity by Marty Green.

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