Selectmen Leo Blair, who represents the Harvard board on the Joint Boards of Selectmen, reported to fellow selectmen Nov. 19 his take on the outcome of a recent Tri-Board meeting in Ayer that JBOS members and selectmen from the other two towns were invited to attend.
There was an "interesting and productive conversation" about the overlay district idea JBOS has been discussing recently, he said. The takeaway was, the group will meet again -- next time in Shirley -- to pursue the discussion.
The purpose of the get-together in Ayer was to air a mostly Harvard-driven plan to create such a district versus other options such as early disposition or Devens becoming a town, both of which have failed to gain traction in the past.
In the overlay scenario, responsibility for Devens governance would be parceled out to landed stakeholders and removed from MassDevelopment, which presumably could continue to redevelop the former military base after relinquishing operational oversight.
To that end, Blair said the group discussed testing public opinion on the issue with a nonbinding question on annual Town Meeting warrants next spring.
They didn't actually agree on anything but the second meeting next month in Shirley. No date was set.
Lucy Wallace said that in the meantime it would be worthwhile to secure some key data, such as the revenue MassDevelopment collects in the form of fees in lieu of taxes from Devens residents and businesses in addition to its own state-funded budget and how much it costs to operate Devens.
Devens has its own fire department, but education and police services are contracted out, currently to the Harvard Public School District and Massachusetts State Police, respectively.
But if MassDevelopment steps away from its governing role, the assumption is that state funding for Devens municipal operations and public services would shrink or go away, raising the question of revenue.
"For communities to provide services, they need revenue, so how do you transfer taxation power?" Wallace asked. And what might the numbers look like?
Established as part of the Devens Reuse Plan, JBOS was -- and is -- an adviser to MassDevelopment. The board originally consisted of selectmen from the three host towns whose historic borders include parts of the former Fort Devens, now a civilian enclave of businesses and homes operated under the auspices of MassDevelopment, the state agency charged with redevelopment and interim governance. Its role is advisory.
Now, JBOS, which meets monthly in Devens, is made up of representative members of the three boards or their appointees, a resident representative from the Devens community and a MassDevelopment official.