In Acton, growth brings budget pressures

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 2/8/2003

ACTON -- Like many other Massachusetts cities and towns, Acton is facing state budget cuts, so in April, voters will be asked to approve a $3 million Proposition 2 1/2 tax-cap override. If it passes, it would add $200, on average, to property tax bills.

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"Like many communities our health care costs have increased by over 50 percent, and pension costs are up 40 percent," said William Shupert, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

It's unclear whether voters will have an appetite to boost their taxes again. In recent years, they have approved more than $100 million worth of overrides to renovate the elementary, junior, and senior high schools and to construct a new police station. Without an override this year, Shupert said, teachers and municipal workers face layoffs.

Acton's population has swelled by nearly 14 percent in the past decade, as young families migrate to the town's schools. While 10th graders at Acton-Boxborough Regional slipped from third to fourth place in the Globe's MCAS rankings last year, the district remains one of the top-scoring systems in the state.

And the median price for single-family homes in Acton for the first eight months of 2002 was $423,500, lower than in the neighboring towns of Boxborough, where it was $471,250, Concord, at $620,000, and Carlisle, at $730,000, according to The Warren Group.

This week, the MLS Property Information Network listed 54 single-family homes in Acton. Two-dozen were priced under $500,000, including a two-bedroom ranch for $265,000. At the top end was a new five-bedroom Colonial on two acres, for $1.5 million.

Still, there appears to be wiggle room on price. Of the 37 single-family homes sold in the last three months, five sold at or above the asking price, according to MLS data. The rest sold for less, by as much as $39,000 below asking price.

Acton was founded as an agricultural community, but by the 1800s had become a center for making wool, piano stools, and cigars. Its first light industry was a barrel manufacturer. Acton also had a grantie quarry. By the 1950s, the farms and orchards had turned into subdivisions. Today, 87 percent of the town's real estate tax revenues stem from residential uses.

But pieces of the past survive, such as the Faulkner Homestead on High Street. Built in 1707, it's the oldest building in Acton.

Another regional attraction: the Discovery Museums. These two separate but complementary museums are filled with interactive exhibitions for children. The Children's Discovery Museum is in a 120-year-old Victorian house that has hands-on exhibits for young children. The Science Discovery Museum offers school-age children theme spaces for science and math.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 2/8/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Company
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