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Auburn selectmen shower business community with love

By Rod Lee

Life for business in the town of Auburn was once not so good but is now much better and looking even rosier in the years ahead.

In exclusive comments they made to The Yankee Xpress, Mark Sarkisian Jr. of Capitol Siding & Home Improvement, Steve Londregan of Chuck’s Steak House & Margarita Grille and Dick Taylor of Masterman’s all praised the recent unanimous decision by the Auburn Board of Selectmen to move ever closer to a single tax rate for commercial/industrial and residential properties.

By voting to reduce the differential between the two from $1.20 to $1.17, Doreen Goodrich, Kenneth Holstrom, Daniel Carpenter, Lionel Berthiaume and Tristan LaLiberte sent a signal that Auburn wants to continue to welcome new enterprises to town while keeping existing businesses in place, Mr. Sarkisian, Mr. Londregan and Mr. Taylor said.

Their position mirrors that of Auburn Town Manager Julie A. Jacobson, who told The Yankee Xpress that Auburn selectmen get it when it comes to being fair to all of the town’s taxpayers.

“The Auburn Board of Selectmen recognizes the importance of retaining and attracting new business to Auburn while balancing those needs with the impact to the residents,” Ms. Jacobson said. “The economic impact of a healthy commercial/industrial base creates jobs for local residents, generates tax revenues and supports many initiatives and events that provide a quality of life for residents.

“The Board made a thoughtful and unanimous decision to continue to reduce the tax differential as part of a long-term strategy which benefits the entire community by retaining and expanding the tax base,” Ms. Jacobson noted. “This multi-year approach, begun in 2007, is designed to reduce the tax differential with a long-term goal of a single tax rate. This approach lessens the burden on the commercial/industrial property owners over time while mitigating the impact to the residential taxpayers during those years where it is financially practicable.”

Mr. Taylor, who is general manager of Masterman’s, agreed.

Masterman’s, a provider of safety and industrial supplies, took a chance on Auburn when the company set up shop in town and it is paying off.

“Masterman’s moved our operation from Leicester to Auburn back in 1981 and we have been very happy with the location and the town,” Mr. Taylor said. “The central location being close to so many major highways has made it an ideal area for inbound and outgoing freight routings as well as for attracting employees from Fitchburg to Putnam and Shrewsbury to Barre. We also feel very connected to the community, helping support services like Auburn Youth and Family Services as well as enjoying personal friendships [with] other businesses, local restaurants and the local coffee shop!

“We also feel very supported by the town’s public services and strong management. Town Manager Julie Jacobson and her team have done an excellent job as has the Board of Selectmen under Chairperson Doreen Goodrich in committing to efforts to support the business community. Getting state funding to upgrade roads, streamlining permit processes and continued movement towards a single tax rate are just a few examples of what makes Auburn a great business community,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Londregan, owner of Chuck’s, is equally pleased.

“Having just celebrated our 40th year here in Auburn, the town has always been a great place to do business,” Mr. Londregan said. “It truly is the crossroads of Massachusetts. Although when The Shoppes (at Blackstone Valley) in Millbury opened and the foot traffic at the Auburn Mall fell off everyone felt the pinch. Surrounding businesses closed, storefronts remained empty for years. This combined with a tax rate that wasn’t competitive made it difficult for businesses to pick Auburn for their expansion plans.

“Yet now with the help of the move toward a single tax rate, this shows new businesses that we are business-friendly. And as we all know business breeds business. All of us in Auburn are looking forward to the next forty years.”

As Dr. Francis DeFalco who is president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce pointed out in a letter thanking Auburn selectmen for their action, “the business community has been and will continue to be greatly affected over the next few years with the minimum wage increase, health insurance, family medical leave law and increasing energy costs, just to name a few which underscores the importance of your vote. Last night the town administration showed us they see our good work, as well as the aforementioned issues that will start to arise. We will continue to work alongside the town as economic development continues and opportunities present themselves to better the town of Auburn.”

Speaking by telephone while away in West Palm Beach, Florida, Mr. Sarkisian said “we had a coalition with the Auburn Chamber, we were there” the night of the tax-classification hearing, “we had about fifteen different businesses at that meeting.” The coalition’s effort included a push by Alex Guardiola who is director of government affairs and public policy for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The town has inched toward a single rate for “twelve years in a row,” Mr. Sarkisian said. Selectmen “originally had a seven-year plan but that never came to fruition. Webster just went to a single rate and Leominster just dropped theirs and next year will have a single rate.” The initiative in that direction “stopped for a while” in Auburn but is now advancing, Mr. Sarkisian said.

It is not enough to say that Auburn is a great location, Mr. Sarkisian said. “Millbury and Oxford can say that too. I remember when the Auburn Mall was going to put on a second floor and they voted against it. That’s when The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley came along. Fran DeFalco was ready to move out of Auburn because his rate went up in the Heritage Mall.

"Julie Jacobson has done a really good job for the town, and Cindy Cosgrove puts together a really good presentation. We kind of took a different approach this year, asking the selectmen to look at all the businesses in town and the people they employ but sometimes they think we’re competing with homeowners which we’re not. It’s been an ongoing battle that should have been done by now.”

For Masterman’s, Chuck’s Steak House & Margarita Grille, Capitol Siding and hundreds of other businesses in Auburn, the Board of Selectmen’s move toward a single tax rate means the foothold businesses like theirs have established in town will be solidified.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.

The late Ben Masterman of Masterman’s with his wife Linda and son Tod. In 1993 Tod Masterman started “Needs and Threads” which collects gently worn clothing for the homeless as a reflection of his father’s dedication to community. The program has grown from infancy into a much broader initiative.

Mark Sarkisian Jr. is president and CEO of Capitol Siding and with his brother Dale is carrying on a tradition of service established by their dad Moses “Mark” Sarkisian Sr. when he founded the company in 1951.