Candidates focusing on town growth
Selectmen hopefuls disagree on possible need to raise taxes
A race for a seat on Needham’s Board of Selectmen has revolved largely around economic development, with candidates disagreeing on proposed building codes and whether a tax increase will soon be necessary to support town spending.
The battle is one of two contested races that Needham voters will decide when they head to the polls Tuesday.
Michael Greis and Matthew Borrelli are vying for a seat on the Board of Selectmen. Though there are three selectman seats on the ballot, only one is contested: a two-year spot that opened up after Jim Healy resigned from the board in January, a year into his term, citing a heavy workload and the strain of having his car’s tires slashed.
Voters will also fill two three-year terms for selectmen, but incumbents Moe Handel, who is serving as the board’s chairman, and John Bulian are running unopposed for reelection.
In the other contest on the ballot, the Park and Recreation Commission’s chairman, Thomas Jacob, is running against David DiCicco and Matthew Toolan for two seats on the board.
At a “meet the candidates’’ event held Tuesday in the town’s Senior Center, Greis and Borrelli discussed their visions for Needham.
The two agreed on the importance of economic development, and both said they supported an article on the warrant for the May Town Meeting that would allow the retail sale of alcohol in Needham.
Greis, who has been a member of the School Committee since 2005 and was its chairman from 2008 to 2009, said he supports the town’s adoption of the “stretch code,’’ an optional addendum to state building regulations that imposes energy-efficiency requirements on new construction and renovations.
The stretch code was debated at Town Meeting in November, when members sent it back to the Board of Selectmen for additional study.
Greis said that though the code might cost builders a little more money initially, the long-term payoff in energy efficiency would be worth it.
“There’s return on investment for that,’’ he said. “Put some money in and save some money.’’
Greis, who founded Green Needham, a nonprofit group focused on energy and environmental sustainability, said that a corollary benefit of the stretch code would be that the extra money spent by builders meeting the code would go to local architects and builders, instead of to pay for higher energy costs later on.
Borrelli, who is chairman of the town’s Finance Committee and is also a construction project manager and lawyer, said the stretch code would unnecessarily burden people seeking to construct or renovate buildings.
“I’m against the stretch code; I don’t think it’s good for Needham,’’ he said.
Borrelli said that when he builds, he follows the stretch code, but that is a choice he makes because he believes it has a market value. It’s a choice, he said, that can substantially raise the cost of building. He said he’d reviewed estimates that put the increase at 5 to 10 percent.
“We all want to be green,’’ he said. “It gives me pause when we put a mandate on people.’’
Borrelli and Greis disagreed again on the question of whether Needham will need to raise property taxes, through an operational override of Proposition 2 1/2, to meet budget requirements.
Needham has some ongoing renovation and construction projects to improve infrastructure and increase the commercial tax base.
Borrelli, for example, cited his work on getting plans for the $8 million senior center passed without a tax increase, calling it his proudest accomplishment.
In an interview, he said he didn’t believe the town would need an override to meet budget requirements in the coming years.
He said that as chairman of the Finance Committee and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, he has experience delivering balanced budgets that don’t require asking residents to raise their taxes.
“I do not see an override in the foreseeable future,’’ he said.
Greis disagreed, saying in an interview that the town’s swelling population of school-age children threatens to strain the education budget, and could necessitate an operational override.
For the first time since 1985, he said, grades in Needham schools are consistently topping 400 children each. As those children move up into high school, he said, resources will be stretched thin. An override is not a certainty, he said, but people should be aware of the possibility.
“I want to be candid,’’ he said. “Overrides are part of our process.’’
Candidates for the two three-year seats on the Park and Recreation Commission discussed their plans for the town’s outdoor facilities and its recreation buildings.
Jacob, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers who has lived in Needham for 23 years, said his experience gives him a broad understanding of the needs of the town.
He said his top priorities were improving Needham’s fields and trails.
“We’re just trying to provide services, hopefully at a low cost to town residents,’’ Jacob said.
Toolan, running for public office for the first time, said that he has a passion for exercise and the outdoors, and that he could bring a fresh perspective to the commission.
In an interview, he said that he would work on publicizing the group’s work through e-mail and social media.
“Park and Recreation has a great foundation,’’ he said. “It’s building on what we’ve got.’’
DiCicco, who has served on numerous town panels, including the Field of Dreams Committee, said in an interview that he supports a legislative proposal that would allow local Community Preservation Act programs to pay for recreational field maintenance.
“My work over the past 14 years shows that I truly have dedication and passion to bring what we need in recreation for the town of Needham,’’ said DiCicco, who was unable to attend the candidates forum.
No one pulled papers to run for a seat on the Board of Health, according to the town clerk’s office.
Health Department director Janice Berns said that there are two write-in candidates, Karen McLeod and Jane Fogg, running for the seat.
If no one is elected to the Board of Health by write-in vote, said Town Clerk Theodora Eaton, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health would make a joint appointment until the next election.
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.