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Just When I Thought I Was Out -- They Pull Me Back In

Common Sense from John DiMascio

What will DiMascio write about now; asks my colleague Jeff Migliozzi. For a while, I was actually struggling with that very question. I thought of writing a seasonal fluff piece. You know, Watertown’s version of “Over the River and Through Woods”. I figured, keep it light; avoid controversy, and give everyone a much-needed break for the Holidays.

Ah, but then the School Committee served up a great big softball that had me scrambling to find my so-called “poison pen”. I’m reminded of Michael Corleone’s famous line from The Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out -- they pull me back in.”

According to the TAB, the School Committee voted to declare the Browne School surplus, only after the Town Manager promised to replace the lost revenue from Atrium AND pay for the relocation of School Department’s maintenance shop.

Well the latter issue is easily addressed. The Police wanted the Browne the site at any cost. Let them pay to move the maintenance shop to the Phillips out of the police budget.

As for the lost Atrium revenue: How does the School Committee figure that they ought to get a dime? The School Superintendent and Members of the School Committee all remained silent whilst the taxpayer got shafted. Now they want the same taxpayers to replace the lucrative revenue stream they apathetically surrendered. Sorry, but we’re already footing the bill for a new police station. Backroom deal or not, we’re not gonna take it! Let Paolillo/Hershey & Company sponsor a few more bake sales. Better yet, allow the kids at the Lowell School have their traditional CHRISTMAS Bazaar to help replace the lost revenue. And while they’re at it, shut that bloody sign off in front of the Middle School. A little less waste might help!

To make matters worse, all of a sudden they’ve changed their mind about the value of the Atrium lease. Mr. Paolillo now thinks the net annual revenue from Atrium would have been roughly $200,000. According to the figures the Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government put forth, he is absolutely correct. However, the Administration’s figures were very different. On the night the Council selected the Browne School location, the Town Auditor told the Council the net annual income from the Atrium would only be about $40,000.

Here is the break down provided by the Administration on the night of the vote:

  •   $221,319 Gross rent
  • - $ 55,250 operating expenses
  • - $186,667 capital improvement reserve
  • +$ 62,222 capital improvement reimbursement.
  • $40,023 Total net proceeds available to the School Dept.

For months, we at the WCCSG questioned the artificially inflated operating expenses, as well as the need for such an immense capital improvement reserve. However, the Administration refused to accurately correct the numbers. The Town Manager insisted that a long-term lease with the Atrium must include a massive set aside to update the building. That was bad enough; except the clever ciphering didn’t end there. The Administration provided a “comparison” of a potential Atrium lease to the Mitchell Proposal. It was said to be “apples to apples”, yet the 50-year revenue projections were calculated using two different rates. The Atrium revenue was dramatically understated, while the Mitchell lease was made out to be “all that and a bag of chips”.

In response, the WCCSG submitted two detailed written reports to the Council. We gave copies to the School Committee Chair and the Superintendent. I personally implored Tony Paolillo to scrutinize the figures, as we had already done. I specifically warned him that the School Department’s accounting practices would come back to haunt them. Case in point: The School Department deducted $27,000 from the Atriums gross rent for maintenance payroll. Well, Tony you can’t have it both ways. Now the School Department has one less building to maintain. We expect a $27,000 cut in the maintenance budget. Whose hours are you going to cut?

The chickens have come home to roost. If the School Department continues to demand the promised $200,000, they are implying the Administration misled the taxpayers. If the Administration follows through on this promise, they are admitting their failure to safeguard the taxpayers’ interest.

Let there be no mistake. Now that the Atrium revenue has been lost, the Browne becomes a perfectly acceptable site for the police station. That decision is a done deal. As we move forward however, we must restore the people’s confidence in their municipal government. Citizens overwhelmingly voted for change in this recent election. Accountability is a great place to start.

John DiMascio

Communications Director
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government



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