WINDHAM — As town officials work towards an updated master plan, many agree on the need to expand the local tax base to lessen the burden on local homeowners.
During a joint meeting between the Planning Board and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday, members from both boards discussed their mutual goals for the future.
Planning Board chair Kristi St. Laurent said discussions on the topic would continue next week during a public meeting to discuss the results of a recent community survey on residents’ development preferences.
As a precursor to the upcoming forum, Community Development Director Laura Scott said she’d recently asked board what they felt was and wasn’t accomplished in the previous master plan.
“We’d like to discuss any new ideas and initiatives that might be included next time around,” Scott said on Wednesday.
Economic Development Committee Chair Ralph Valentine said he felt the town had met many of its goals set in the 2005 master plan, though some areas have fallen short.
“One thing we didn’t do as well was in reducing the tax burden on residents, which was a major goal in 2005,” Valentine said.
According to town documents, residents carried 93 percent of Windham’s tax burden in 2005. While a goal in the 2005 master plan suggested that number be reduced to 90 percent, residents currently carry 92 percent of the town’s tax burden: just one point lower than it was nine years ago.
Valentine noted that a cost of services study conducted by the town in 2012 hinted at a “commonly held notion that non-residential uses are typically regarded as net benefits to the tax base.”
“This is true,” he added. “It’s very clear that more non-residential development will be needed to reduce the burden.”
Windham’s current lack of municipal water is one major hindrance to meeting that goal, according to Valentine.
“The town has failed to plan for necessary infrastructure,” he said, noting that another 2005 goal, this one to increase the commercial industrial tax base by 10 percent, likewise hasn’t been met.
The lack of municipal water is hardly a new issue in Windham.
A warrant item placed on the March 2014 ballot, asking voters to approve a $35,000 study to explore possible municipal water options, failed to pass.
A total of 1,868 citizens voted against the study, with 1,403 voting in its favor.
The study would have explored water sources and supply options along Route 111 as well as the Exit 3 interchange on Interstate 93.
Town officials agreed this week that gaining the community’s insight on future development would be an important step in setting goals for the future.
“We can use this as a frame — not just on how to lower the tax rate but on how we can improve family life here in Windham,” Selectman Joel Desilets said.
The master plan community visioning workshop will take place Wednesday, July 16, at Searles School and Chapel at 7 p.m.