Why don't we know what the outcome is of the tax money being spent in Attleboro? We can request an agency balance sheet or a municipality's budget, but citizens have no information in the form of a report to tell us if money is being spent wisely, effectively and in a way that gives us a return on our investment.
The first thing that comes to mind is the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority. Every now and then, I read an article in this paper about the millions spent by the ARA. What I don't ever see or hear anything about is if there is a return on the investment in projected tax revenue earnings to the city.
Several years ago the city spent taxpayer money to do over the sidewalks at County Square. The area certainly looks nicer, no one questions that, but did the expenditures translate into increased revenue for the local businesses? Did it decrease traffic congestion? Did it actually improve the property values? I did a quick Google search and searched the city's website and I could not find anything that provided answers to these questions.
Let's for the sake of argument say that there was an uptick in the adjacent businesses after completion of this project. How do we know the uptick was isolated to the area that was subjected to the project? What if we saw an uptick in business across town? We could remotely conclude the uptick was caused by said beautification project, but it would be dubious. A more likely explanation in this scenario would be that the uptick was part of a larger trend independent of the beautification project. My point is that we don't know.
Another example is the recent $250,000 tax break given to MAR Seafood. I understand how in theory giving companies a tax break can lure businesses and subsequently jobs to a community; I get it. Staff writer George Rhodes recently wrote that Mayor Dumas agreed to reimburse MAR Seafood for a 330-foot sewer main and four utility poles which the company paid about $40,000 to install, but which will be used by other occupants of the park in the future - I don't have a problem with the reasoning. MAR Vice President Joe Fernandes said the city's decision to pick up almost $40,000 in costs helped cement the previously shaky deal - again, this seems fair.
So I am not questioning if there were good decisions. What I wonder is where is the analysis that shows that the city will actually make out on this deal? Will this tax break and reimbursement pay for itself or will the city lose money? How do we know? If we don't know, why not?
Call me a geek but I want to see the actual analysis so I can judge for myself if this was a decision that won't cost us money. Sure, it's not the only factor in such decisions, but it is an extremely important factor.
Almost without exception, governments spend money and citizens have no idea what comes of this money. We do it here in Attleboro, but also in state and federal government. I know this to be true in my experience working in local and state government and as a consultant with government agencies. Almost without exception, there is always someone within a government entity that says that this level of analysis can't be done. Eight times of 10 someone says it can't be done because they are worried that the results will negatively affect them and the other two times out of 10 they just don't know what they are talking about. Well, let me tell you this can be done.
My point is that in the race to lead Attleboro between Mayor Dumas and retired Fire Chief Churchill, I'd like to see the following issue seriously addressed, not just hit with talking points: How do we know the money the city spends (on a taxpayer funded project) is producing the outcomes (more jobs, better quality of life, improved property values, lower crime, better academic achievement, etc) we want? And how do we know our tax dollars are cost- effective, meaning: are we making money, breaking even, or losing money? Can that cost-benefit analysis be shared with Attleboro residents? I think these are fair questions for every mayoral race. If we don't ask for this we won't get it.
PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro is a contributing columnist. He can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com. His commentary usually appears on Monday, but was delayed because of the July 4 holiday.