Projects Have Added Value
Mr. Fulcher’s letter (Feb. 22) castigating Mr. David Oppenheim is mindful of the current dangerous national discourse of incivility, disrespect and divisiveness. I ask Mr. Fulcher to take a step back and think critically about the work of Mr. Oppenheim and his wife, Gail, over many years. Their numerous projects have added value as well as important resources to the town.
They have refurbished challenged properties to be functioning, not-for-profit assets in our village centers, such as the Oppenheim Medical Center and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Association in West Chatham. They have purchased and restored homes and businesses, such as The Wayside Inn and The Mayflower. These and other projects not only employ locals in the planning and construction phases, but also employ locals after project completion and provide workforce housing. His awards and praise for beautification of historic homes are many.
The Oppenheims' leadership and foresight have been a welcome asset to the community, and while Mr. Fulcher has an averse opinion, I encourage him to do an in-depth, unbiased study of the Oppenheims' work. Then, I am confident Mr. Fulcher will support the housing coalition efforts of Mr. Oppenheim, and perhaps more constructively meet his own life goals.
Chatham and Venice Fla.
A Fair Solution For All
The Chatham Selectmen appear to be headed for an endorsement of a property tax surcharge and a real estate transfer tax to provide funds to cover the $16.8 million unfunded retirees health insurance benefit. The idea seems to be to fully fund the OPEB in 10 to 15 years. Someone has suggested that the first $425,000 be exempted from the real estate transfer tax.
First of all, the town should never have incurred this extraordinary unfunded liability. Where has the finance committee been? This issue of funding retiree health insurance will not end in 10 to 15 years. It will go on forever at constant high levels of annual inflation. Whatever the town elects to do, it should implement a financial plan that covers near-term retiring employees starting now and also starts to materially gain on the retired employee liability. This doesn’t have to occur in 15 years but it needs a definitive end date.
Who should pay for this unfunded liability – everyone who owns property in Chatham and those who come to visit. A number of options have been floated: a lodging and meals tax increase, a property tax surcharge, a real estate transfer tax, and a re-direction of the current but expiring land bank tax surcharge. To suggest that a 2 percent increase in the hotel/motel tax would be “undesirable” is absurd. If one picked a mid-July date to stay at the Wayside Inn for an evening at $425, the increment for the evening would be $8.50. A meals and lodging tax increase would be a very reasonable way to permanently add revenue to the needed funding source. The rest of the funding should come from the property tax process which should not have an exemption for properties under a arbitrary amount. We all benefit from the contribution of town employees over the years, past and present.
This is where we should pause. Just a reminder: the standard of living in Chatham is extraordinary and largely funded by the non-resident taxpayers. Town administration estimates that 60 percent of the number of tax payers are nonresident. I would venture to say that most of the homes owned by them carry valuations greater than the average. I don’t believe it would be a stretch to assume that upwards of 7 to 75 percent of the property tax revenue collected comes from the nonresidents. Why does this matter? Because they can’t vote, they don’t have a real voice in the town governance. Yes, they have the summer advisory committee but that is not the same as having a vote. With this said, this tax revenue-raising effort should fall on all shoulders. The real estate transfer tax would fall disproportionately on the high value homes as they are second homes and are prone to more frequent turnover.
The idea of assuming a percentage of the current land bank surcharge when it ends in 2020 sounds like a great idea. The tax is already embedded in the property tax process and seems like a painless absorption. We can keep taking that medicine.
I would hope someone in the town treasurer's office can give us some of these alternatives in a quantifiable math presentation. Time to think about this is now. Town meeting is fast approaching.
Let’s hope that we all arrive at a solution that is defined by fairness for all Chatham taxpayers.
ADU Fears Are Unfounded
On Feb. 27, the Chatham Planning Board held a public hearing on its proposal for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), which would grant homeowners the right to create an apartment – inside their existing structure or in an additional structure – provided it would be leased on an annual basis.
The opponents argued that this type of development would hurt property values. This assumption is questionable. Having more small apartments in town will not reduce the demand for larger houses – small apartments and large houses serve very different markets The year-round apartments will be for people who cannot afford houses and now must live elsewhere and commute into Chatham to work. The houses will continue to attract well-to-do buyers, both year-round and seasonal.
In fact, having the apartments available will bring to town young families and young professionals who will add vitality to the community and provide important services. That vitality and those services will make Chatham a more attractive place to live and vacation, driving up property values.
The opponents argued that the apartments would lead to noise and disruption in neighborhoods, raising the specter of bad tenants and overcrowded apartments. This assumption is also questionable. Subletting the apartments in the summer will be prohibited. The homeowners will want responsible year-round tenants who do not disrupt their own serenity and who can watch the property if the owner is absent part of the year. This brings stability and security, not disruption.
In the past, Chatham’s insistence on strict single-family zoning has led to sprawling development and encroachment on much of our natural areas. ADUs will allow us to accommodate the needs of year-round workers without clearing more lots.
To calm the understandable fears about any zoning change, perhaps Chatham should start with a limited
experiment. To start, grant the right to build ADUs only in areas surrounding our neighborhood centers along Route 28, places where we want to encourage walkable communities and healthy retail. Give us several years to judge the impacts before deciding on town-wide implementation.
A further step to calm fears would be to require that tenants work year-round in Chatham. The homeowner would need to provide a town housing coordinator with a copy of the annual lease and the tenant would provide documentation of employment. While this creates some paperwork, it could be worthwhile.
Years ago, Chatham was a village community where those who worked here could afford to live here. Slowly we are becoming only a seasonal and retirement community. Let’s reverse that trend through thoughtful zoning changes.