WESTFORD — Welcome to the Nov. 19 edition of Weekend Wrap-Up. Here, we highlight the most important news you may have missed this week in Westford.
The average homeowner could see an increase in their tax bill of just under $300.
During a Nov. 14 hearing, the Select Board unanimously voted to adopt a tax rate of $13.77 per $1,000 of assessed value. For single-family homeowners, this translates to a 2.93% increase from last year, or an additional $297 for fiscal year 2024.
In 2023, the average tax rate for a single-family home was $10,120, which is projected to increase to $10,417 in FY24. The total increase can be attributed to average single-family property values increasing by just over $70,000 from 2023.
During the hearing, Naser outlined that the town could adopt a split tax rate — where commercial businesses would pay a separate rate, but stressed that this change would only “shift the burden” onto commercial properties.
However, officials opted to retain the town’s single tax rate.
“Because Westford has such a high residential population, to make any real difference to the residents you have to make a substantial difference to the businesses,” Select Board Chair Tom Clay said.
He added, “the concern was that we want to remain competitive with our neighbors and be an attractive place for businesses to relocate.”
Additionally, board Vice Chair Scott Hazelton noted that a split tax rate, even with exceptions for small businesses, would not necessarily help small businesses.
“We think that every small business will benefit, but it’s based upon the property. So if you’ve got a strip mall with 12 businesses, the taxing authority is the owner of the strip mall, not each business,” he said.
He added, “it’s not as simple saying as ‘we’ll help out small businesses,’ you might just be helping out the landlord.”
Westford residents will soon be eligible for discounted compost pick-up right at their doorstep.
What’s in the MOU?
The Select Board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding between Bootstrap Compost and the Town of Westford during a Nov. 14 meeting. The MOU allows residents to receive discounted services from the company.
The MOU creates a one-year pilot program where Bootstrap Compost is Westford’s preferred, but not exclusive, compost provider. The company already serves 45 households. The contract is effective on Dec. 1 and will expire on Nov. 30, 2024.
Bootstrap Compost will provide the town with reporting on the number of customers and the weight of material diverted from solid waste disposal, as well as at least two public informational sessions to promote the program.
The town will allow the company to promote its program through town communication channels, as well as provide “reasonable access” to public records for the company to obtain contact information for potential customers.
The program results from findings from the Budget Task Force and Recycling Commission, which found that Westford is 17% above the state average for solid waste collection. Currently, the town is charged $99.77 per ton of solid waste sent to Covanta for disposal, in addition to hauling costs associated with trash pick-up.
Officials hope diverting food waste from the trash will result in savings for residents and alleviate the costs of a recently approved solid waste contract with E.L. Harvey. Officials also believe that the partnership can get residents “in the habit” of separating food waste from their trash.
“More people who can compost at home may decide to adopt home composting with additional education,” Sustainability Coordinator Sue Thomas wrote in a memo to the Select Board.
Residents can purchase weekly service for $6 per week or biweekly service for $8 every other week. If Bootstrap compost receives 120 or more sign-ups, these rates will decrease to $5 a week for weekly pick-up and $7 for biweekly pick-up.
Residents who prefer at-home compost may purchase an Earth Machine compost bin for $25 at the Highway Department.
The Westford Education Association and School Committee have ratified two additional contracts, which include substantial pay increases and one-time stipends for some employees.
Unit E’s contract, which represents Westford’s Education Support Professionals, expired on June 30, 2022. The contract, which had not received an extension during negotiation, had moved to arbitration in April, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Chew.
What’s in the Unit E contract?
A number of items, including new benefits and increased stipends, are included in the new contract, which is set to expire on June 30, 2025.
Some of the changes include:
- The contract allows employees to escalate grievance reports in certain cases and entitles all employees to sick leave benefits, regardless of hours worked. Employees with advanced degrees and certifications will see an increase in their annual bonus.
- The new contract changes the title of Teaching Assistants to Educational Support Professionals. It provides union representatives with one professional development day to attend the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
- Library ESPs will receive an additional $0.50 per hour, with employees assigned to students who require physical intervention receiving an additional $1 per hour. ESPs who are assigned to act as a substitute will receive an additional $12.50 an hour.
- ESPs will now receive overtime pay and additional professional development opportunities.
- ESPs will now receive two additional days of bereavement leave for employees who experience the loss of a loved one who does not reside with them, or a stillbirth or miscarriage for the employee or their partner.
- Employees may now apply for long-term leave of up to one year if employed with the district for more than one year.
- Current employees will receive a $1,000 stipend within 30 days of the contract’s ratification.
What’s in the Unit B contract?
Additionally, Unit B, which represents curriculum coordinators, support team leaders, and school counseling coordinators had their new contract signed on Nov. 6 and unanimously approved during a Nov. 6 School Committee meeting.
The contract is set to expire on June 30, 2026. This contract has seen two one-year extensions since it expired in 2020.
A number of changes are included in the new contract, including:
- Similar bereavement provisions as Unit E.
- Unused personal days are converted to accumulated sick days at the end of the year.
- An equal salary differential among staff, regardless of their position. Previously, differentials were provided to certain positions, such as Student Support Team Leaders, Guidance Facilitators working with middle and high school students, as well as curriculum coordinators.
- Salary longevity payments now have parity with Unit A’s salary longevity payments.
- Stipend payments for extracurricular activities now have parity with Unit A’s stipend payments.