Town budgets are familiar territory to both candidates running unopposed for the two openings on the Select Board in next Tuesday’s election. Don Ludwig and Charles Oliver have served together on the Finance Committee for the past five years, and Ludwig has been on FinCom for 10 years all together. Both candidates say they see the Select Board as a continuation—a logical next step—in their volunteer service to the town.
Don Ludwig. (Courtesy photo)
Ludwig sees continuity in town concerns
As a new Select Board member, Ludwig expects to continue “looking at things from a budget-oriented position,” as he has on FinCom, but “with a broader view.” He also brings experience on the town’s last Master Plan Steering Committee, as well as the Personnel Committee.
In a short telephone interview with the Press, Ludwig said he thought the issues the town faces were the same ones that have concerned residents for quite a while. He cited the growing strain on homeowners as property taxes rise. “I want to help our aging population stay in town,” he said.
Town officials have long warned Harvard faces a structural deficit—a gap between the amount town government spends and the smaller amount it receives in taxes. “This is a critical time, when we need to start aligning on that,” Ludwig said.
The construction and maintenance of town buildings are also ongoing issues. Having served as FinCom’s representative on the School Building Committee, Ludwig said he was glad the new elementary school had been completed under budget. He said he believes the town can keep the Bromfield School going for a long time. He sees the fire station as the next building issue.
Another longtime issue that concerns residents, Ludwig said, is traffic. He expects the Ayer Road reconstruction project to remain a big topic for discussion, especially because of increased truck traffic. As for deterring speeders, he says the Police Department is doing a great job, adding that the sight of a cruiser at the side of the road is a really good deterrent.
“A lot of knowledge is leaving the board,” Ludwig said, speaking of the departures of Select Board Chair Stu Sklar and member Alice von Loesecke.
Charles Oliver. (Courtesy photo)
Oliver ponders development, Devens, and decarbonization
Charles Oliver has talked with each of the current Select Board members to learn their views on the board’s priorities. Like Ludwig, he sees the town headed for a financial crunch. “The structural deficit is the biggest thing looming for us,” he said in a phone call with the Press. The work of Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro in changing the town’s health insurance provider this year saved $300,000 and “allowed us to dodge a big problem,” he said. But he called those savings just “a Band-Aid” for the long-term budget problem.
While Oliver hopes to encourage commercial development on Ayer Road “in a way the town wants,” he does not see that development as a solution to Harvard’s financial problems. Instead, he believes in “development that provides the town with needed amenities and services,” he said.
Harvard now gets less than 5% of its revenue from commercial property taxes, Oliver explained. And even to move that share up to 10% would require about $70 million in additional commercial property value on Ayer Road, an amount of development he does not think residents would support.
Oliver also hopes to be involved in planning for the disposition of Devens. Resuming jurisdiction of Harvard’s former land there, he said, would require much more management and expertise in town government. “We should have a plan soon,” he said.
Oliver noted that MassDevelopment recently withdrew from discussions about governance of the former base with Harvard and other stakeholders on the Devens Jurisdiction Framework Committee. “Getting MassDevelopment to reengage,” he said, “is a job for the Select Board.”
When asked what project he’d like to work on as a Select Board member, Oliver said he sees decarbonizing as an important goal for the town. He has already talked with Peter Kelly-Joseph of the Energy Advisory Committee about the possibility of solar panels for the roof of the Public Safety Building. He said a solar array for that building would be a manageable size for the town to buy outright, rather than going through an intermediary with a power purchase agreement. The new Council on Aging building, he said, was another possible place for solar panels.