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A Roslindale Square walkabout

WalkUp Roslindale, a group that wants to make the neighborhood even more walkable, will hold a walk around Roslindale Square next week to tabulate all the problems with local sidewalks, traffic signals and intersections to present to the city departments that can fix them.

Starts at 9 a.m. on Dec. 5 inside the old Select Cafe space on Belgrade Avenue.

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Comments

I know people are ambivalent about Citizens Connect BOS311, but I have successfully gotten pedestrian issues fixed by reporting them that way. For example, in the past 18 months or so, the walk buttons at both Cummins/Washington and W Roxbury Parkway/Washington stopped working, but were fixed soon after reporting.

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Walk... buttons?

People actually use those things?

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I guess it's true of all open forms of civic engagement, but I hope this isn't overrun with cranks.

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As opposed to cranks who just complain about everything on UHub?

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Not talking about taking funds from JP to invest in Roslindale - bigger picture.

In 2003, schools, public safety and fixed costs (interest payments, pensions, state assessments for MBTA charters etc.) were 73% of the budget. Now they are roughly 75% of the budget. You may say what's 2% between friends - but keep in mind it costs about $2.1 billion for those three large budget items (and healthcare is only included in that for the schools). Everything else - including health care for the police and FD - is accomplished with 25% of the budget or just $700 million. It's a zero sum game. If you want more for Roslindale (or any neighborhood) you have 2 choices - a) cut something from another neighborhood or b) cut something from schools and public safety (or pay more taxes - and I wish you luck with that proposal). Fixed costs are not "cuttable" - and also the fastest growing part of the budget due largely to pensions.

Not saying it's not a good idea - but any time people say "I want more for x" it means "Spend less on y" If you are going to scream for more on your x, you should be required to identify the what y we are going to spend less on.

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I know what you are saying, but that also kind of assumes there can never be improvements to the city budget in terms of cost savings which then can be spent. If I look around Roslindale, house prices are up and more buildings are going up, which are selling for asking price by and large (I think). The city's income from real estate taxes should be increasing more than 2%, right? If you were saying 'hey, how can the city possibly pay to replace the Long Island Bridge' I think that's a bigger issue than something like this which might represent a few million spread out across the Main St districts. You're also precluding the possibility that some in the city administration can reform x, y or z budget area to reduce city costs. Dare to dream.

Also, if you want until there is funding available to start thinking about what it should be spent on, you've likely missed your shot. My experience with government spending (federal) is that stuff gets cued up and then gets spent at the end of the fiscal year, if funds are available. So people get proposals lined up in August for the end of September. So yes please, let's get a list on the record of crosswalks which are bad or whatever so maybe it can be acted on at some point.

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But that's not the way politicians do the budget around here.

Fixed costs go up (pensions alone are increasing about 10% a year), teachers, cops and firemen get raises (as do city councilors apparently). Literally everything else gets cut.

It's all a nice thought - but until we figure out how to get "efficiencies" out of teachers cops and firemen, there isn't much else in the budget that will move the needle - and about all of the other departments are already getting crushed under that proverbial needle.

(And if you think things are bad now - wait until the next recession, a bout of inflation and/or higher interest rates. Those may not be around the corner - but they are coming and there will be hell to pay)

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I get that money is always tight, but the city does work on this type of project, even with the current budget situation. If those are the last projects of this type that the city is planning to work on, I guess you're right that it would be tough to find money for Roslindale, but if this is an ongoing initiative, why shouldn't Roslindale be considered in the future? Even if Roslindale doesn't get a project on this scale, I'll bet that the walkabout could turn up a bunch of smaller changes that could be done on a pretty short budget and still make meaningful improvements.

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So from that perspective - yes - could go to Roslindale. Point is if the city does something for Rozzie - it has to come from somewhere else. There's just not a lot and there's less every year - mostly due to the rapidly rising fixed costs the city has to bear.

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Point is if the city does something for Rozzie - it has to come from somewhere else.

They're talking about fixing street lights and painting crosswalks - standard issue maintenance that's budgeted for every year. You're talking capital budgeting. Wrong issue.

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Yes, ultimately, the municipal street-repair budget is zero-sum. But I'm not sure what the objection is to people creating a catalog of things they'd want to see fixed and then asking the city to see what it can do. It's not like people in Roslindale are suing the city to get marble-encrusted handicap ramps.

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I'm not sure what the objection is to people creating a catalog of things they'd want to see fixed and then asking the city to see what it can do.

First time here, Adam? ;-)

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First - as you know - I spend a lot of time in the Square - including several hours yesterday - lunch at Fornax and grocery shopping at the Village Market. It's a wonderful neighborhood and I'm happy to be a part time member of it. This was not a knock on Rozzie at all.

Again - squeaky wheel gets the grease - so definitely worthwhile, but with just a few things squeezing out everything else - there's precious little room for even little things like this - which was the main point. Schools and safety are far and away the most important things in the city's budget - but as they eat up more and more of the resources - it makes neighborhoods battle each other for the crumbs that are left.

And keep in mind - the people that wanted the marble-encrusted handicap ramps were willing to pay for them - which baffles the mind as to why the city said no. (and not sure if you've heard - but the plastic ramps the city opted for are already falling apart and nobody knows why - but many have to be replaced already years ahead of schedule). Sadly - as time goes on - we will need to raise more and more private funds for little "extras" like basic municipal services that aren't teachers, cops and firefighters.

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'' I guess you're right that it would be tough to find money for Roslindale, but if this is an ongoing initiative, why shouldn't Roslindale be considered in the future?''
To think Roslindale even had its own high school at one time too. How about a new one built at Fallon field, walking distance from a new and improved Orange Line extension/ Needham Commuter Rail Transportation Emporium.Make it an exam school , Think of the potential !

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As long as the Orange Line is running to Needham, build a stop for West Roxbury HS/Millennium Park.

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The bridges and ROW past the Square narrows significantly and the MBTA would be looking at land acquisitions. Rozzie could be done as a back-and-forth spur from Forest Hills for the cost of a station and some signal work. 500 Mil if they were sensible with the station design.

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The commuter rail keeps on running.

Extend the Orange Line to VFW Parkway while putting a Green Line spur from Newton Highlands to Needham Junction and the Needham Line goes away.

Just running the Orange Line to the Square while keeping the commuter rail going would involve a lot of land takings, particularly in the Square itself.

Ah, but we've been over this before.

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You could build a very basic station on the footprint of the existing parking lots. There's a station up in Malden that's not much bigger. Of course, then there wouldn't be any parking, horrors of horrors.

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And the platform needs to be either elevated or depressed with room for 6 cars, along with space for storing a few train sets, which would entail perhaps screwing Fallon Field or Saint Nectarios. And remember, you still need to have space for the Needham Line, which means somehow jamming 3 tracks on the embankment that is currently wide enough for 2, along with getting over the Bussey Bridge.

I think people think this is easier than it is.

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The yard at Forest Hills would still do just fine. The first run of the day would be a 1 mile non-revenue trip from the yard out to Rozzie Station, where the first riders would board. The station itself would be a fairly simple affair, leaving enough room for some parking and kiss and ride at the upper lot, while the lower lot would have to become a bus depot.

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Somehow the tracks have to get from Forest Hills to Roslindale, so the tracks that function as the Forest Hills train yard would be the beginning of those tracks.

I also think people should seriously look at the embankment and ask themselves how one would get 2 more tracks on it.

But other than land issues, it would be much easier than extending to West Roxbury and closing the commuter rail entirely.

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You've obviously given this topic some thought - if you became comptroller in the city tomorrow, what would you do? Raise taxes? Cut wages?

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1) The city can and has operated just within the past 10 years with 5% fewer workers and nobody even noticed - the few complaints I've read out here were more about reallocation of resources than actual cuts. You could phase that in with no layoffs over a few years

2) Top to bottom review of "total compensation". Used to be that municipal wages were low - but made up for with generous health care, defined benefit pensions and perks like saving vacation days and cashing out at retirement. Employees should be paid fairly - but you have to get to apples to apples - and if you factor in those benefits you'd see significant increases in true "compensation". If comp is too high - which I'm guessing it is - you don't cut wages - you phase it in by eliminating COL increases and gradually scaling back overly generous benefits. At the very least - when nobody else is getting raises - city workers shouldn't either.

3) Eliminate defined benefit programs. While still less than 10% of the overall budget - pension costs are skyrocketing - with roughly 10% increases the last few years. I may choke on those costs - but a deal's a deal - pensions are honored for current/older employees, phased out for younger employees and eliminated for new employees. Not saying we can't generously match contributions within budget - but the city can't afford the current promises.

4) Reduce health care benefits - especially for higher paid employees. Again - needs to work into total comp - I'm not saying get dirt cheap labor - I'm just saying that there are probably many that are making a lot more than you think if you just look at salaries.

5) An especially hard look at education costs - why are we still spending roughly the same on schools for a system that is 15% smaller and has seen increases at twice the rate of inflation over the past dozen years or so? I'm double dipping a bit here - but education is the $1 billion gorilla in the room. You're not going to fix the budget without getting efficiencies from education.

You need to get education, public safety and fixed costs to about 70% of the budget - at least in the short/mid term - then we can increase other departments by over 25%. The small departments do an incredible job on almost no money - and some (like finance and assessing) don't even need more money. Imagine if we could increase the parks department or DPW by 25% or even 50%? We could do that if we could just get the big pieces I noted from 75% to 70% of the budget.

And the truth - almost 50% of the people that vote in our elections either work for the city or are related to someone that works for the city - so if you actually tried to do any of this you'd probably be out on your keester (or worse) before your term was even up.

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- pensions are honored for current/older employees, phased out for younger employees and eliminated for new employees.

As somebody in a position where I'm going to have a pension (federal, though, not state or local) I guess I'm not sure how this would work? The way the pension plan works it not like a 401k - you don't pay your share into the plan and then get that same money back, but rather, the money I'm paying into the pension fund now is going out to current pensioners, and when I retire it will be fresh new employees supporting the fund. If we switch over all new employees to the kind of retirement plans the private sector has (which as somebody very young I'm not opposed to, provided I was given the cash currently deducted for the pension to invest), I feel like the city pension fund would collapse even sooner and more spectacularly than it's estimated to? Or do we just have young employees still paying in with the expectation that they won't get anything back, ala millennials and Social Security?

An especially hard look at education costs - why are we still spending roughly the same on schools for a system that is 15% smaller and has seen increases at twice the rate of inflation over the past dozen years or so?

Increased use of SPED and ELL services, which costs a lot more money than regular teaching.

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Sooner or later. Just like a stopped clock.

The ticking property tax timebomb is still ticking.

Just because your taxes maybe went down this year doesn't mean there's not still a crisis.

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You're right - the problem I thought would be here 3-4 years ago was delayed by the financial crisis and zero percent interest rates from the Fed. Any guesses what happens to your property taxes if the ten year treasury goes from say 2.3% to 3.5% (a 50% increase)? Your house (which is probably worth a lot less if borrowing costs go up 50%), gets a double digit tax increase for several years. That's not an opinion - it's arithmetic. We didn't eliminate the problem - we only postponed it (and have done nothing to fix it in the meantime)

We should all send Janet Yellen our thanks - and maybe a gift.

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My guess is that sometime in the next 20 years my property taxes will go up, and that you'll say "See! I told you so!" You may call it arithmetic, but I think probability covers it better.

For this year, I'll just be happy my property taxes actually went down, and Stevil's snake eyes haven't come up on the dice yet.

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Why did my taxes go down? The assessed value went up, but the rate decreased so I'm paying less. This appears to be Marty Walsh just pandering by giving people back their money, but is that it? Why isn't the city seemingly concerned about the unfunded healthcare and pension issue which is looming in the future?

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The city will collect 4-5% more in taxes this year compared to last year. Summarizing - but this is how it works:

Take last year's taxes and add 2.5% - that's the total collected on current buildings
Add in "new construction" - which usually adds and additional 1%-2%

THEN:

Calculate the commercial taxes and divvy that up among the commercial properties. Whatever is left gets paid by the residents.

There are two main ways your taxes can go down:

a) Commercial values go up substantially - lowering taxes for all residents because they "own" a bigger share of the pie (this may have a little to do with it - but probably not much this year). Historically this doesn't happen. While there is some fluctuation, the commercial share of the tax burden has tended to decrease over time (Used to be a legislated max of 70% - but that's now irrelevant and commercial pays about 60% - but it ranges about +/- 2% around that number)

b) Other residential properties on average go up more than yours. That means other properties own proportionally more of "the pie" so they pay higher taxes and yours go down. Good that you have lower taxes - but that means other homes usually in other neighborhoods are increasing in price faster than yours (or in a downturn decreasing in value less) is what causes that phenomenon. You are doing well - just not as well as others.

My main concern - that has not come to fruition - is that commercial values are calculated by taking the profit of a building (city has quite strict methods for this) and then dividing it by a "cap rate" or an interest rate appropriate for that type of property. Like a bond - if rates go down, values go up and vice versa. We the taxpayers have benefited substantially from the federal government's zero interest rate programs - that has propped up commercial values somewhat artificially. If interest rates move up say from 4% to 6%, the commercial values drop by about 1/3. That means commercial taxes will drop dramatically - but then they have to pass those taxes on to the residents. Commercial currently pays 60% of the taxes. If that drops to say 50%, we all get a 25% tax hike - plus the annual 2.5% that compounds forever. As Sock Puppet says - I'll be wrong until I'm right. I underestimated the propensity of the federal reserve to lower interest rates so low for so long. Great for us as long as that's true - but my concern is that if interest rates start to rise - especially if that accompanies any downturn in the real estate market - look out - the increases will be dramatic and could stretch on for several years. In the meantime - as I said - thank Janet and the Federalistas for their gift that keeps on giving - until it doesn't. Then watch out. It won't happen next year (taxes are based on values from a year earlier). After 2016 - all bets are off. We could continue to get lucky - or get screwed royally. No way to know.

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that can be done NOW without any kind of major capital investment. The city is (hopefully) moving toward more multi-modal street design, and by doing things like restriping (and removing un-needed travel lanes), changing signal timing, and adding flex-posts can fix a lot of problems with speeding and other unsafe conditions for non-motorists. They need to first go out there and assess what the real problems are, though.

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