Leverett’s commendable municipal bond issue

June 8, 2012

I’m often critical of municipal bond issues that either appear to be configured to avoid the necessary approval processes or appear to benefit private interests over public interests. The opacity of muniland creates plenty of dark places for odd dealings to occur. But earlier this week I read about the small Massachusetts town of Leverett, which had just conducted the most open and transparent bond approval process that I’ve seen. What was being decided was a $3.6 million project to build a broadband network connecting the 632 households in the community. The whole process is about as commendable as you could hope for.

From the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

Construction of a municipal fiber-optic cable network is expected to begin later this year after residents Saturday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a $3.6 million bond measure to finance the project.

Bids are expected by the end of the summer with construction to begin soon after, officials said.

“We’re expecting everyone in Leverett to have access to this network by 2014,” said Peter d’Errico, a member of the town’s Select Board and a leading supporter of the municipal fiber-optic system.

The Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override was favored by a margin of 462-90, with one blank. The 83.5 percent vote to support the project was well above the two-thirds majority needed to approve the override.

Slightly more than 39 percent of the town’s 1,405 registered voters cast ballots, which is a large turnout for a single-issue election, town officials said.

“I’ve been monitoring elections here for nearly 20 years, and this is a very strong turnout,” said D’Ann Kelty, the assistant town clerk in Leverett who was in charge of Saturday’s special election. “This shows that the town was really invested in this.”

When you look over the town’s website you can see the government made sure that it allowed plenty of time and provided plenty of information for voters to make their decisions. Approval of the project was projected to raise property taxes by 5 percent to repay the bonds. Although households were expected to recover the cost of the increased property taxes through savings on their cable, phone and Internet costs, 19 percent still cast votes against the project – but at least they had a chance to express their opinion.

It is time for more municipal governments to open up approval processes the way Leverett did. Often it might be only the town crank who shows up to meetings to complain. But every time a government works to increase taxpayer understanding of its actions, confidence increases. And the bedrock of democracy is trust and confidence in the government. Cheers to Leverett: Enjoy your new broadband network.

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