Social services report disputed Friday, March 24, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A divided and at times argumentative committee studying social services last night presented its initial findings, which drew sharp criticism for being irrelevant and statistically flawed.

The draft report outlines significant growth in the number of social service agencies and properties during the last 15 years and ties the nonprofits to crime and lagging property values.

But the 10-member committee is in deep disagreement over the initial report, which is the result of months of work.  Four members presented a minority statement in response to the main presentation.

Chairman Bob Berman, who read the statement on behalf of himself, Jim Palmer, Wes Ritchie and Dawn Harkness, blasted the findings, saying that much of the data supports preconceived notions about social services and is "simply irrelevant to our charge."

"In fact, we believe that the majority has ignored the will of Town Meeting and presented a draft report that does a disservice to the town of Framingham and demonstrates a lack of respect to the Town Meeting members who are expecting an unbiased, fact-based impact study about the impact of social services in Framingham," Berman said.

Harkness began to explain how the minority members were prevented from discussing the draft report in detail before last night's meeting, but Vice Chairman Yaakov Cohn, who chaired the meeting, cut her off.  She continued speaking, but Cohn cut her off again.

"Dawn, you are out of order.  Thank you very much," he said.

Lloyd Kaye, who has closely followed the committee's meetings, yelled at Cohn from the audience, "That's disgraceful."

Several speakers urged the committee, which was appointed by Town Meeting, to get past its differences and present a final report.  Berman said he and the other dissenters would present a minority report to selectmen and Town Meeting.

If the committee's findings are to be taken seriously, Liesa Healy-Miller argued, they should be presented in one report.

"My fear is if there's a majority report and a minority report, these will cancel each other out," she said.

Town Meeting member Alexander Capone lauded the committee for its work. "The facts are it was an excellent report, and Town Meeting is going to look forward to you giving it to them," he said.

The report reveals an extensive growth of social service sites, which have increased seven times since 1990, mostly around downtown.  It also shows that Framingham far outpaces 17 other communities in the number of social service sites per 1,000 people.

And the report offers some data on how social service properties affect surrounding real estate values.  According to the findings, the assessed value of a property next to a social service site grew at a slower pace than values townwide if the site was opened six or more years ago.

Berman assailed this part of the report in his statement, saying most of the properties examined are downtown, where the overall increase in values is bound to be lower than the town as a whole.

"They have now used that flawed data to imply that social service properties are dragging down property values in the town, an assertion that has not been proven by the data included in the report," he said.

But Laurie Lee, who put together the report, denied that was the intent of the information.

"The idea was to put together the facts and lay them out for public view," she said.

Speakers questioned the relevance of some of those facts, like the town's crime statistics and the amount of federal grant money it receives compared to other communities.  Town Meeting member Norma Shulman wondered why the committee bothered mapping the social service sites when a quarter of the addresses are confidential.

"I see (the information) as a lot of disjointed things that were thrown on the wall, and that’s not to disparage your work," she said.

Preliminary findings on social service agencies

  • Framingham has 40 active social service agencies operating through 241 sites. In 1990, it had 13 agencies operating 32 sites.
  • Social services are exempt from paying $648,000 in property taxes.  The exemption increases residential tax bills by $30 a year on a $400,000 home.
  • The number of arrested people who gave the wet shelter on Irving Street as their address increased by 600 percent between 2000 and 2005
  • Between July 2005 and March 2006, 721 Framingham residents were arrested, 15 percent gave the wet shelter as their address.
  • Compared to 17 other communities, Framingham had the highest number of social service sites per 1,000 people, with 3.6. Lynn was second at 1.5 per 1,000 residents.
  • The total income of the largest three agencies in Framingham is $95 million, with the biggest reporting an income of about $50 million.

Source: PILOT committee draft report

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