FALMOUTH – Once in a great while, a community arrives at a turning point, the outcome of which will affect residents’ quality of life for decades to come. Such is the case in Falmouth on June 14.

Falmouth voters stand poised to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — without raising taxes.

At last, Falmouth can finally have a town center, a place to gather, grow and learn, a place to run into people who know your name, a place where you know you’re in Falmouth.

With the upcoming completion of our new elementary school on Woodville Road, the School Board will soon turn over the historic Lunt/Plummer-Motz site to the town of Falmouth. And, just as residential growth has precipitated the need for a new school, so has it resulted in an overcrowded library, which is the busiest library in the state, per capita, for a town our size or larger.

In addition, the town’s Community Programs Department has for years experienced a shortage of indoor recreation for all ages, especially for seniors and families with young children.

In keeping with Falmouth’s long tradition of excellent services and fiscal restraint, passage of Question 1 will provide a home for several growing needs in a cost-effective way.

Based on a smart strategy and sound financial planning, we can significantly improve our civic infrastructure without any new property tax dollars.

How? With proceeds from:

The sale of existing town properties (conservatively projected at $3.4 million).

Private gifts to support the library ($1.25 million).

A portion of our very healthy municipal reserves ($1.5 million), which are specifically set aside for one-time capital investments, not operating expenses.

The D.W. Lunt School will be renovated into a larger library; the Motz Building and Mason Gymnasium will house a modest recreation center (no pool); and the adjacent play area will transform into a Town Green, hosting concerts and other community events.

Finally, the Plummer Building, Falmouth’s beloved first high school, will undergo improvements and generate revenue when a suitable tenant is secured.

Opponents of Question 1 reasonably ask: What will happen if the projected revenues fail to meet expectations? The referendum language is very clear on this point: If revenues are not realized by 2015, the project will not go forward. It’s that simple.

They also express concern that future operating expenses will increase our property tax rate. In fact, by moving several existing public properties onto the tax rolls, we’ll generate new residential and commercial property tax income, and upgrading these aging buildings will lead to increased energy efficiencies.

In addition, the town’s popular Community Programs Department generates most of its income through user fees.

Should new operations net an increase in expenses, it will likely be covered by revenues from properties newly added to the tax rolls rather than by taxes on existing homes.

After several years of discussion, rigorous studies and extensive public input, both the Falmouth Town Council and the Falmouth Memorial Library Board of Trustees have voted to support Question 1. Why? Because it makes sense.

The plan not only meets existing needs, it provides flexibility for the town’s future growth by securing land and buildings in a familiar, accessible location.

Should Question 1 fail, the entire Lunt/Plummer-Motz site will most likely be sold to the highest bidder.

The library board has voted to move the library either way, but that project’s price will soar due to the cost of land and a brand-new building in some other location that has yet to be determined. Community Programs will continue to limp along, offering hardly any programs during the day, failing to capture the talent and resources that so many residents have to offer their neighbors.

My hope is that Question 1 goes the way of Community Park, the site of Falmouth’s premier outdoor recreation fields and outstanding trail system. When voters wrestled with that far-reaching decision decades ago, it was heated and controversial.

But today, can you imagine Falmouth without Community Park? Where would our kids play soccer, lacrosse and football? Where would we walk our dogs, cross-country ski and fly our kites?

Fortunately for us and for future generations, forethought and good planning trumped fear and resistance to change.

By prohibiting the use of new property-tax dollars, Question 1 offers Falmouth taxpayers an amazing opportunity.

In 20 or 30 years, we won’t believe that anyone in 2011 didn’t see what an extraordinary asset a town center would be to our community.

Vote “yes” on Question 1. It’s the smart move for Falmouth.

– Special to the Press Herald