Natick 2022 Candidate Profile: Kathryn Coughlin, Member of the Board of Directors
NATICK, MA — Natick voters will have a rare chance to elect two new members to the select committee.
Longtime board member Sue Salamoff and
To help voters get to know each candidate, Natick Patch sent all three a questionnaire to probe their thoughts on municipal issues. Here’s what Coughlin had to say:
Occupation: Consultant on human rights in the global Muslim world
Experience as elected official: member of the municipal assembly; appointed to the Natick Zoning Appeal Board for 5 years
What do you think is the biggest problem facing Natick and what would you do about it?
The most important issue facing Natick is the town’s financial viability. Without this guarantee, we cannot make progress on the other serious issues we face: sustainability and the environment; capital planning; economic and commercial development; helping our city’s seniors age in place; expanding our affordable housing stock; fight against social and economic inequalities. Before committing to an operational tax waiver, I will review all available data, ask the tough questions, and work with our city administrator and school principal to ensure they have the resources they need. Supporting our business ventures is essential: when they succeed, tax revenues, such as taxes on local options, increase. To this end, I support a single tax rate for residents and businesses. And I understand the economic pressures Natick residents are currently facing with rampant inflation and rising fuel prices, which is why I am offering a means-tested tax exemption for the first $100,000 of assessed value for owner-occupied residences.
Natick may have to decide later this year whether or not to adopt the CPA. Where do you stand on this question?
Each year, the state provides a matching Community Preservation Trust Fund, which is funded by fees collected from the deed registry and occasional appropriations by the state legislature. For the past 22 years, residents of Natick have paid this title transfer fee to the Deeds Registry, which was then transferred to the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund and distributed to towns and villages that had passed the CPA. None of this money came back to Natick. Under the current proposal, a home valued at $600,000 would have a property tax bill of $8,004. The first $100,000 of assessed value is exempt from the surtax, so the surtax would be calculated on taxes for a $500,000 or $6,670 home. A 1% surcharge would cost the owner an additional $66.70, or just over $5 per month. According to these criteria, the CPA would generate a little more than a million dollars per year for Natick. The Natick proposal also provides an exemption for qualified ownership of low-income housing and low- and middle-income senior housing. These are funds that could be used to buy open space, help with historic preservation, and buy or build affordable housing.
If Natick had adopted the CPA in 2001, as it is now proposed, we would have raised over $30 million for our Community Preservation Fund. The Fund would have received government consideration totaling $6 million or more.
Natick will form a governance committee in 2022 to study the strengths and weaknesses of the city. In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the city and what changes would you like in a revision of the charter?
One of Natick’s strengths is its professional staff. Our community is fortunate to have committed, intelligent and hardworking staff in the many city departments and in our schools. We need to commit resources to support and retain them, especially in this time of “great resignation”. Another strength is the quality of many of our volunteers who sit on boards and committees. We have a vibrant arts and culture community, a charming downtown, and one of the best farmers markets in the state.
As for the weaknesses, I think that the representative communal assembly as a mode of governance should be reviewed. We rarely have contested races or complete lists of candidates vying for the municipal assembly; and some members are chronically absent. The most common complaint heard is that the town meeting takes too long; many other peer cities are able to close deals in two nights. Natick’s annual municipal meeting can last several weeks and usually lasts 3 hours each night. We need to look for efficiencies and possible reforms to ensure we have an engaged electorate. I would not prejudge the outcome of the findings of the city governance committee by asserting a review of the charter amendment.
Due to rising school and city costs, the select board may have to decide whether to put a replacement for Proposition 2 on the ballot. Where do you stand on this question?
The pandemic has exacerbated Natick’s structural budget deficit over the past two years. On the income side, local revenue is slowly growing as more people eat out and stay in hotels, but it’s not growing fast enough. New growth is also soft as the cost of building materials has skyrocketed and issues with the global supply chain persist. Rising interest rates also make new growth more expensive. On the positive side, state aid is expected to increase by 13%. On the spending side, health insurance is up 4.5% this year, and supply chain issues are impacting the city. And retaining our excellent professional staff also costs money. Also, we need to replenish our reserve funds, as we borrowed from them during the pandemic. All of these things point to the very real possibility of an overshoot of Proposition 2 ½ in the near future. But I won’t automatically assume it’s unavoidable without looking at all the data. As I stated above in Question 1, I understand the economic pressures Natick residents are currently facing with runaway inflation and higher fuel prices, which is why I am offering a conditional tax exemption. resources for the first $100,000 of assessed value for owner-occupied residences. .
If you could snap your fingers and it happened, what is one thing you would change or correct about Natick?
If I could do only one thing that would make an instant difference in Natick, it would be to eliminate racism, inequity and hateful or discriminatory acts of all kinds. That no resident be discriminated against, harassed or excluded because of their sex, race, class, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, style of learning, his abilities or his political party. While Natick strives to be an inclusive community, we still have work to do. I am hopeful that hiring a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer will help us in our efforts to make Natick a place where everyone is welcome and feels safe.
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