Terra Friedrichs

& her local work in
Acton, Massachusetts

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Fiscal Responsibility, Transparency, and Affordability

Fiscal balance is critical for maintaining excellent schools, protecting our property values, and ensuring that our quality of life is sustainable. and social needs are met.  Scholars have said that sustainability depends on three "pillars"and that no one of them can stand alone.  These pillars are: Economics, Environment, and Society

During my years in the private sector I acquired a strong financial management background. As a result, I fully understand how strategic value is achieved. In my years serving community groups, I've learned to translate my corporate experience to bear on public finances, schools, historic preservation, social justice, etc. These all come together to add value to our town and lives. Considering how important these values are, and considering that nothing less than the future of the Town depends on our getting it right, I understand how we are compelled to take our tactical and strategic thinking all the way and work our way through to a full understanding of the consequences of any mismanagement of Acton’s finances and resources.

What this comes down to for me is that, at a minimum, our focus as we move ahead must be both tactical and strategic, that it must take into account all points of view, and that we are obliged to successfully communicate our direction to the Citizens.


Terra served during the Master Planning process for the Acton 2020 plan. During "Phase 0" of that process, was where the broad, values-based goals were set. We brought 23 people to the table. Terra talked people into serving from various communities which were not typically part of the planning process. And she worked to ensure that there voices were heard all the way through the process. She considers it a great success that in the end, everyone walked away satisfied that their issues had been address. The process involved not only soliciting the opinions of the ‘person in the street', but also taking everything apart and putting it back together again so that the plan could align with our residents' expectations. Now that we're almost to the year 2020, Acton will be embarking upon a new Master Plan. Terra hopes to be part of this process. She hopes YOU will too!

As we go along, we will inevitably have to come to grips with the consequences of action or inaction and we will have to understand the implications of change, especially where education, safety, and aesthetics are concerned. We are, after all, building the foundations for the future and we are not going to be granted the ability to go back in time to undo any mistakes

Everyone understands that we are going to experience more economic development.  In fact, further development of Acton is not only inevitable, but also necessary. The benefits of appropriate development are lower residential tax burdens, more choices for shopping, dining, and recreation, and an environment supportive of people who work for a living. Terra hopes to guide this development so that it is "sustainable", local, and responsible to community needs. Terra helped organize the Economic Development Committee. And she has built her own business as a consultant to the most successful businesses in the world. Recently, she's focusing more on small, cooperative, and sustainably oriented private enterprises.

Acton, unlike its competitors out along I-495, does not have significant parcels of land that lend themselves to large scale commercial development. Therefore our future responsible economic development will be carried on in smaller settings and will involve "infill" projects which take up small parcels or result from upgrading or expanding existing properties. "Big Box" retailers with huge stores and oceans of parking, are not considered sustainable for towns that are looking long term. Terra's focus will therefore be on the smaller retailer who in fact is more likely to be an independent entrepreneur versus an outlet of a distantly managed conglomerate.

Locally owned and managed businesses survive in large part because they are sensitive to what the local customer wants. Without this focus, the local store will simply go out of business. This sounds like a tough environment, and it is. It makes sense to Terra that we should not add to the difficulty of launching a small business by retaining obscure bylaw provisions which are confusing and difficult to work with. Terra advocates for our continuing the "customer service" orientation which our Town Manager, Steve LeDoux, initiated this year to bring the public face of Town Hall up to a customer friendly standard which gets the job done efficiently, is transparent in its requirements, and treats the customer, whether a resident or a business, with the respect they deserve.

From Terra herself:

I speak the language of fiscal conservatives, because I have a background in finance. But I also want to solve pressing social issues. That said, I do not want to spend money that we don't need to.  While I'm not afraid to spend money when I think it's worth it, I also want to stretch money to get the most for it. Tax dollars are a community resource. Land permitting authority is a community resource. Town character is a community resource. And I do not ant to waste one bit of it.  

For example, I fully supported the public's demand that we not accept the settlement offer in the dispute with the operators of the proposed day care project at the intersection of Main Street and Route 2. Even though the costs of any litigation can be painful (if it comes to that), we need to be prepared to stand up to developers and others who will cause a negative effect on our town. The "alternative" was huge mansions which would not pay for themselves in "new tax revenues". And now we have an affordable housing project and a dog park going in on the site. To me that was a good "return on our investment".

I'm very conservative when it comes to fiscal planning for the future.  And I want to make sure that we start paying down our "unfunded liabilities". Doing so will help keep our great credit ratings and strong property values, while also shielding against large/surprise increases.  I believe that we should not be afraid to "invest" in things that we think are worth investing in. At the same time I understand that the value of our houses can be negatively impacted by taxes which are too high.

Every year citizens ask candidates for the Board of Selectmen what their position is on an override of the Proposition 2 ½ cap on real estate tax increases. This isn’t really a fair question. Most of us are against tax increases, especially if they are greater than two and a half percent. The real question is under what circumstances would one support an override vote.

Selectmen must have a clear picture of of"when" and "how much" they would support for an override.  If they say that they support "overrides", would they support a $2,000/year increase for each household?  Or would they only support a $200 increase?  Would they support an override if the additional money could only be used for certain defined purposes like, say, open space, school, recreation, etc?  

To say that one supports an override, without saying "under what conditions", is like saying that you support "free money".  Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to running a municipality with an annual operating cost of $100,000,000. When the day comes to make a determination on taxes, you want to have a Selectman who has both the analytical skills and the empathy to sort out a strong consensus on what we collectively want to do.

Over the decades, I have learned a tremendous amount about municipal governance. One thing I learned right away is that nothing about the Town is as simple as I thought it might be, and that progress comes only with patience and dedication. These lessons apply not just to taxes, but also to what our agenda should be on some of the big and intractable issues which never seem to leave us.

Of course, the disposition of "unfunded liabilities" is probably the poster child for those kinds of issues, but it isn’t alone. We also have to reach a working consensus on what to do with our "unbuilt lands," how to plan for capital expenditures needed to maintain our infrastructure, health benefit programs, collective bargaining, classroom sizes, test scores, our overall competitive position, and plenty of other fundamentally important questions. The new Board we are about to put in place is a "young" board, and it is therefore no time to be having our Selectmen learning how to operate through on the job training. The Board of Selectmen needs to be able to move decisively right out of box.

For my statement about "taxes" specifically, please see this link.

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