By Jada Wang, May 13, 2016
Sharon – Enthusiastic Chinese Community held an open forum with Incumbent Selectman William A. Heitin, on Friday night May 13, at Unitarian Church of Sharon, followed by a warm reception with candidates for selectman and school committee.
In his opening remarks, Bill expressed his passion running for the 4th term of the selectman. Born and raised in Sharon, and having involved in a variety of town activities, Bill told the audience that he is very passionate about the town. He wanted to be continuously involved in the community, to ensure the current selectmen initiatives completed in the best interest of the town, and commit to make Sharon the same, if not better, for our children as it was for his generation. He also cited the Wilber School development, the operating budget stabilization, the doubling of commercial tax revenue, improving bond rating and debt level, and bringing affordable housing rate to mandatory state level to avoid developer overrides as his major accomplishment.
Bill responded to questions from moderator Zheng Liu and the audience. Topics covered include major repair and maintenance projects (renovation of high school, elementary school, public safety building, town hall, and library), construction projects (Sharon Gallery/Sharon Common, and Rattlesnake Hill), and debt level. He cited that three major failures of the community were: not acquiring Rattlesnake Hill, not being proactive, and drug issues. The biggest of them, was the failure to buy back Rattlesnake Hill. We had two opportunities to buy the land – once for $7m (voted down), and a few years later $12m (voted down again).
Property tax, Sharon construction projects, and transparency issues took center stage during Friday night’s open forum. Below are details of some of the questions (edited) and answers from Mr. Heitin:
- Q: The property tax is already very high. As there are lots of projects going on, for example, renovation of high school (over $80 million), and police station, we are very concerned about the property tax (hike). What kind of oversight are in place for project cost?
A: We have building committee, put together by town meetings, to authorize the development. In addition, project oversight group, made up of diversified group of people, meets at least weekly to understand every aspect of the development cost. Prior to the approval of a development project, there is a lot of work to be done, including discussions at public forums, and voting at town meetings.
- Q: We failed developing Sharon Common, which should have been under development 10 years ago. Why did we fail? Don’t blame the financial crisis, as during the years, there are lots of commercial projects that have been completed at our neighborhood towns.
A: It was the financial crisis of our developer as the developer was not properly financed.
Q: The project should not be at the mercy of the developer. If the developer can’t build, we should be able to take actions including taking back the land.
A: That land was never owned by the town so it was at the developer’s mercy when to build. A residential plan was initially presented and town negotiated to rezone it to commercial, which took 2.5 years. We did make a mistake – we should move quickly to rezone the land.
Q: If this project is not working, we should have used other land to develop. Town owns 40% of the land. We should develop commercial projects. Insufficient commercial development is the reason of our property tax crisis.
A: It is not the town, but the conservation commission owns the 40% land and we can’t develop conservation land.
- Q: Transparency and communication: People are not aware of what is happening or has happened. People are not involved. Is it because we don’t have effective channels or people don’t care?
A: It’s a combination of both. It is very difficult to disseminate all the information. We have town websites, open forums, facebook and are also on Sharon Community TV. We need to figure out better ways to disseminate information but it is a tough situation. I wanted to ask you – every one of you to get involved.
- Q: Change form of Governance: Can we have one leader (i.e. mayor) or expand the board of selectmen?
A: Six years ago, we put considerable amount of time on changing the form of governance. However, the change of the form of governance was overwhelmingly shut down. People did not want to change the form of governance.
Bill Heitin, Selectman challenger Liz Dichiara, and school committee candidates attended the reception after the forum. During the reception, there were continuous discussions on major projects, drug issues, property tax, and communication channels.
From the editor: Sharon Chinese Association was newly founded in April 2016 and has made great strides in promoting awareness of community affairs. Please follow us on www.sharonchinese.org and stay tuned. Contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org for any comment. Video of Incumbent Selectman Night follows.