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Walpole doesn’t deserve prison mitigation

July 6, 2012

Update 7/8/12: Walpole prison mitigation money is not included in the budget signed by the governor seen here.

Update 7/10/12: After getting clarification, it does appear that Walpole prison mitigation money is included in the state budget but you really wouldn’t know it from reading the budget (our legislators are very sneaky.) The $750,000 amount is grandfathered in from FY 2012, along with a prison host community grant. I sought the assistance of a number of legislative staff members over the past week, and none knew how to help me find the prison mitigation money and to clarify the language in the budget, which is why up until now I reported that it did not appear that prison mitigation was included.

Our town officials talk a lot about safeguarding local tax dollars, but when it comes to protecting state tax dollars, they seem to turn a blind eye.

For the second year in a row, and the sixth time since 2004, the town’s municipal delegation put a provision in the FY 2013 state budget that will steer $750,000 to the town’s coffers this year under the guise of prison mitigation. Walpole is the only prison host town in the entire state that will receive earmarked prison mitigation money.

Instead of criticizing it as wasteful pork, the same town officials who routinely tout their supposed conservative credentials are celebrating. Meanwhile, one local legislator publicly expressed concern for the budget’s over-reliance on rainy-day funding, and yet still thinks this earmark is acceptable.

It’s time, as 180 did last year, that town officials, legislators, and citizens recognize that prison mitigation is nothing but legislative pork – and unnecessary pork, at that. It deserves no place in the state budget.

Town officials and legislators insist that prison mitigation money is needed to literally mitigate the financial impact that MCI-Cedar Junction in West Walpole has on town services – specifically police and fire service. But if mitigation was really the aim, it would be added directly to the budgets of the town departments that are affected. In reality, in past years the town has used prison mitigation for one-time expenses like a facilities study and adding to the town’s free cash. This year’s mitigation money will likely be used similarly. Since town officials typically refuse to use the prison mitigation for recurring expenses like personnel, it basically becomes a slush fund for one-time expenditures.

Not only does the town not actually use the money for prison mitigation, but the State Auditor’s Division of Local Mandates has determined that Walpole isn’t mandated to provide services to the prison anyway.

“After considerable research … DLM has not been able to identify a state law, regulation, or agency rule that requires the Town of Walpole to provide emergency response at MCI Cedar Junction,” DLM Director Emily D. Cousens wrote in a letter to Selectmen last May. “There is no language in the 1953 Act [creating the prison], or any known agreement executed between the state and the Town of Walpole that requires the Town to service the facility,” the letter read.

As for officials claiming that the mitigation money makes up for lost revenue because the prison is tax-exempt, their numbers don’t add up. If the land was privately-owned, it’s clear Walpole would not actually be getting as much as $750,000 in taxes per year. If the 198-acre prison land was a residential subdivision, the town would probably be losing money, simply due to the impact on the school system. If the property was kept whole and was residential, it would generate about $120,000 per year in taxes, according to town assessor Dennis Flis. If it was zoned as commercial, it would generate about $150,000 in revenue, according to Flis.

Even without prison mitigation, Walpole already gets a substantial cash payment from the state in exchange for the prison. The Mass. Department of Revenue makes payments to cities and towns every year for tax-exempt state-owned land, including prisons. According to the DOR, the state will pay Walpole about $79,000 this year as official payment-in-lieu-of-taxes specifically for the prison land.

According to DOR Spokesperson Daniel Bertrand, Cedar Junction is valued at about $9,021,900. That’s actually higher than the town’s assessment of $8.5 million. The DOR’s annual payment to Walpole is based off a three-year average state tax rate.

On top of the DOR payment, the town will also get a small share of a $2 million prison host community fund this year – along with all other prison host towns across the state. That money is expected to net at least $30,000 for Walpole.

If the town was really taking a $750,000 hit from the prison that warranted special mitigation money, it’s worth asking why Walpole was the only prison host town that got it. It certainly appears to fit the classic definition of pork – a budget expenditure steered to one particular legislative district while other districts are left hanging out to dry. Each town should be treated fairly in the budget process, and should receive their deserved share of state funding – not be forced to compete with other towns for political pull on Beacon Hill.

In the interest of good government, Walpole officials should return the money and stop demanding state legislators provide it each year.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. arnie fickel permalink
    July 6, 2012 1:02 PM

    I agree with 180 as we should not get the prison mitigation money; but we come to a different conclusion as why. My reasoning as to why we should not get the prison mitigation money is because the last administrator of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections consolidated all the Bad seeds in one Super Max Prison in Shirley Massachusetts. MCI-CJ is an intake prison now no longer the most dangerous prison in the State. The number of trips by Walpole EMT’s to CJ has dropped dramatically and I am sure the town would provide us with that data if asked. You no longer see on a two to three times a week basis two ambulances and two chase cars coming down route 1A. This is very infrequent. Walpole Fire does have a responsibility to provide service to the prison as they have no Fire Department or Ambulance. These infrequent events are subsidized to an extent by the taxes that prison employees pay when they utilize the local businesses in town. Leos, Rico;s Cumberland Farms etc are big receivers of this 24/7 business. (Corrections) Not just Guards but support personnel. Medical, Admins, etc. So in summary we do not need the prison mitigation money and if it is given to us it should go directly back to the taxpayers in walpole via a refund due to the misguided Override recently. Fact checking I am pretty sure Concord does get prison mitigation money or did in the past.

  2. Kevin M. permalink
    July 9, 2012 12:28 PM

    Update 7/9/12 – Can u read?
    provided further, that the department shall expend not less than $2,000,000 for cities and towns hosting department of correction facilities; provided further, that of such $2,000,000, no city or town hosting a department of correction facility shall receive more than $800,000; provided further, that of such $2,000,000, no city or town hosting a department of correction facility shall receive less than the amount allocated in item 8900-0001 of section 2 of chapter 68 of the acts of 2011

    • July 9, 2012 7:48 PM

      Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment.

      There is a difference between prison mitigation and a prison host community grant.

      Unlike last year, there is no explicit language in the budget specifically giving $750,000 to Walpole in addition to the prison host grant you referenced above. You may go back and look at previous state budgets, particularly last year, to see what I mean.

      The text that you cite above is for the prison host community grant program. Perhaps it can be interpreted to suggest that Walpole is “grandfathered in,” as it were, and will receive $750,000 as part of the prison host grant program as they did in 2011, but I do not believe that is the intent of this particular part of the legislation because I believe this specifically pertains to the prison host program if you compare it to past state budgets.

      I spoke to multiple people in the state legislature and still have not been able to find a single person who has found Walpole’s prison mitigation money.

    • July 10, 2012 2:32 PM

      You were right Kevin. My apologies.

  3. My name doesn't matter permalink
    July 11, 2012 7:44 AM

    Why couldn’t you say you were wrong in your update, instead of couching it in terms of “legislators being sneaky?” You made a mistake and should own up to it, instead of hiding behind the legislators.

    • July 11, 2012 8:02 AM

      I did make a mistake and I did own up to it.

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