By John Anderson

At last night’s Special Town Meeting, Members voted to purchase about 50 acres of former agricultural land off Southold Road for $2.865 million. Although there has been a lot of rhetoric at recent Selectmen’s meetings about using free cash and the stabilization fund to pay for the purchase, no one amended the article as presented, and it was decided to follow the recommendations of Town CFO Ed Kazanovicz. The vote was 98-2.

Kazanovicz recommended borrowing $1.865 million for ten years. Auburn’s strong bond rating should merit an interest rate of about 2%. The other million would be borrowed for a year and then renewed each year until paid off. This would allow an anonymous $1 million donation to annually pay down the note. The average home in Auburn would have an impact of $22.80 each year for ten years.

The anonymous donation can now be accepted by the Selectmen and comes with the stipulation that the property be permanently protected as open space. Uses aside from passive recreation would be prohibited. The donation will be distributed through the Greater Worcester Community Foundation.

Town Manager Julie Jacobson said, “The mission of the donor is open space.” She also indicated other properties in town might also face development concerns. “There are going to be other issues.”

Throughout this process Kazanovicz cautioned against using free cash or stabilization money to finance any part of this purchase, and it appears people listened. Moody’s has given the town a “positive outlook” which means the Town is on track to obtain the highest bond rating possible. Any deviation from the financial policies adopted by the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen would certainly see no improvement in the rating.  A lower rating means higher interest rates which, in turn, means higher taxes.

In the end, this is a great step in the right direction of protecting open space. The road was a bit bumpy getting there, but the perseverance of citizens, elected officials and appointed officials got it done. On to the next challenge.