HARVARD -- Selectman Leo Blair told Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Jen Benson about an "interesting dynamic" the town may need their help with regarding Devens, where most residences are located within Harvard boundaries.
With Devens' Grant Road slated for redevelopment, the new neighborhood could add 300 to 450 residents to the town's registered voter list, Blair said. But no new taxes. Those voters could conceivably up town taxes without paying them, he pointed out.
Devens residents who live within Harvard borders are eligible to vote at Town Meeting and in town elections and to run for public office. But they don't pay town taxes.
Instead, per rules spelled out in state law, Chapter 498, Devens homeowners and businesses pay fees to MassDevelopment, which provides public safety and other municipal services via outside contracts or in-house departments.
Selectman Ron Ricci called the envisioned situation "representation without taxation," a reverse take on the rallying cry of the Revolutionary War.
"We embrace Devens' Harvard residents as part of our community," Blair said, but this could be a problem.
MassDevelopment, charged with Devens redevelopment and governance through 2030, seems to be digging in for the long haul, and according to recent remarks by its director, may even stay on after the designated pullout deadline, Blair said. "You guys need to be mindful of the unique position we could be in," he said.
"I'm not sure there's anything we can do," Eldridge replied.
Blair suggested ways to help. It would be "nice" if Devens residents had "skin in the game," via taxes, he said. And if the "change in governance" JBOS hopes to forward via nonbinding referenda in the three stakeholder towns, gained traction at the state level.
Another issue the legislators were asked to consider was that although Harvard residents who live in Devens are welcome to use the Senior Center and participate in activities and programs, the Council on Aging can't use its Elder Affairs grant funding to provide outreach services in Devens.
"We don't have the right resources," Selectman Lucy Wallace said.
The education contract with Harvard Public Schools worked out well, she said, but it came with substantial perks. Now, with a mixed-income, multi-generational community next door and within its boundaries that is slated to grow, the town of Harvard "could be asked to provide more services," she said.
Benson pointed out that the COA does get "some state money" for the purpose because the census formula covers Devens residents, too, albeit only $7 per person.
But Blair said it wasn't all about money. "I see this as not a financial issue but one of fairness," he said. "I'm very interested in having Devens residents fully engaged," he said, however that happens.
For example, Blair favors the nascent proposal to switch Devens governance from MassDevelopment to the three stakeholder towns until a disposition plan is worked out in which Devens revenue is reallocated accordingly after the state agency leaves.
"Are you looking for an interim revenue source" to govern Devens in the meantime, such as a PILOT program? Benson asked.
Basically, yes, Blair answered. "They already pay much lower taxes in Devens" than other Harvard residents do, he said.
Ricci suggested realigning the tax rates and/or creating a different voting precinct so that Devens residents have a say in services they contribute to, such as police and fire. Anyway, "we're just going to need help," he said.
Wallace agreed, pointing out that Devens residents don't get a say in their community's budget now. "We need help navigating the issues," she said, adding that better communications with MassDevelopment would be a good start.
In other discussion, noting bills he advocated for, Eldridge's list of pending legislation included regionalization and collaborative services, $13 million for eco-conscious upgrades to the state's drinking and waste water infrastructures and a transportation bond bill that has already passed, with $300 million slated for Chapter 90 highway aid to cities and towns.
Earlier, Town Administrator Tim Bragan said the town can expect $51,021 as reimbursement via Chapter 90 funding from the state's "Winter Rapid Recovery Road Program" to patch potholes, repave roads and fix damaged guardrails after a hard winter.
Eldridge said the House and Senate passed a local aid resolution that will impact the Special Education Circuit Breaker, which is state education funding aimed at narrowing the extra-cost gap between the school district's special-ed budget for mandated services and money actually spent due to unexpected expenses the previous year.
Chairman Marie Sobalvarro asked if the reimbursement percentage, which has been a moving target, would be raised back up to 75 percent.
"With amendments filed, we hope so," Benson responded.
Wallace spotlighted the transportation bond, with $50 million for street improvements. "How do we apply?" for some of that money, she asked
She was told the Department of Transportation wants a complete street listing, including walking and bicycle paths.
Wallace said that should be done anyway, as part of the ongoing Master Plan update.