SELECTMAN candidates Chris Barrett and Katy Shea sparred over a series of different finance and municipal issues during Candidates' Night at the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center on March 31. The forum was sponsored by the Lynnfield Business Coalition. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

SELECTMAN candidates Chris Barrett and Katy Shea sparred over a series of different finance and municipal issues during Candidates’ Night at the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center on March 31. The forum was sponsored by the Lynnfield Business Coalition. (Dan Tomasello Photo)


LYNNFIELD — The two candidates vying for an open seat on the Board of Selectmen clashed over taxes and the town’s financial obligations during Candidates’ Night March 31.

Selectman candidates Katy Shea and Chris Barrett debated a series of finance-related questions pertaining to taxes, unfunded liabilities, upcoming contract negotiations with the town’s employee bargaining units and their own qualifications for the open seat on the board during the Lynnfield Business Coalition forum held at the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center.

In addition to answering questions from moderator Pat Tracy-Callahan, the candidates also responded to questions from the audience. The candidates gave a closing statement at the end of the forum.


The two candidates were asked what makes them qualified for the office of selectman.

Shea said she is “not a politician, I am a business owner.” She is a Bentley business school graduate, which she said was made possible by a Lynnfield scholarship, and got her MBA from Northeastern University. She made her way up the professional ladder after graduating from college and worked for Fortune 500 companies such as Motorola as well as start-ups.

Additionally, Shea said her husband purchased their current company, T.H. Glennon Co., which they were able to turn around and expand.

Barrett said he has worked in both the private and public sectors. He said he has an MBA from the Isenberg School of Management and ran an insurance business in Everett. He also served as former Governor Mitt Romney’s Director of Municipal Affairs, where he “saw how well run Lynnfield is” compared to other communities.

Barrett also dismissed Shea’s claims he is just a politician.

“I am a volunteer for my community,” said Barrett. “I have 15 years of dedication to the community I love. If that is what a politician is, then I am proud to say I am a politician.”


In response to a question about how Lynnfield can continuously improve, Barrett said the town needs to reinvest in the community in order to move forward. He said he opposes level funding the budget or going below the 2½ percent levy limit, because Lynnfield will be put in a difficult financial position.

Shea said the town has gone up to the 2½ percent levy limit for the past 12 years and said residents should be given a property tax break. She also said Barrett is a “Beacon Hill guy” who freely spends taxpayer dollars.

The candidates were also asked if the $2.5 million in property taxes generated from MarketStreet should lead to a reduction in residential property taxes.

Barrett said MarketStreet was brought to Lynnfield to prevent between 400 and 600 units of Chapter 40B apartments from opening in town.

“It wasn’t about reducing taxes,” said Barrett. “It was about avoiding the need for overrides so we can continue to invest in our community and put this new growth to areas that need it. As much as I would like a 1 percent tax cut, it would mean about $80. That’s not enough to bring my family to dinner.”

Shea said the $2.5 million generated in new growth generated from MarketStreet and new homes built in town is higher than the $800,000 projected. While Shea said it’s good some of the funds were used to paid off a $840,000 note, she said the selectmen should have called a Special Town Meeting so “people can vote on what to do with the excess revenue.”

“The good news is the town has less debt,” said Shea. “The bad news is I think people should have been more involved with the process. As a business owner, it’s not about the 2.3 percent or a 2 percent tax increase. It’s about the compounding of the tax increases.”

Unfunded liabilities

Tracy-Callahan asked the two candidates if they believed the $100,000 voters at October Town Meeting approved for the Other Post Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund (OPED) was “sufficient” and whether the town should investigate ways to allocate more to the fund.

Shea said the town’s current OPEB obligations is $21 million, which said has been “under funded” at 36 percent. She said the town needs to allocate $53 million in order to “provide healthcare for our (retired) employees,” but noted the program doesn’t need to be fully funded. She said the town needs to gather more information from long-range forecasting to “see how much money we need each year” for employee health care costs.

Additionally, Shea said the town needs to develop a plan to fund pension fund obligations, which she said the town is “behind on.” She said the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank, gave the Essex Regional Employee Pension Fund, the town’s pension program, an F rating due to unfunded liabilities.

Barrett agreed with Shea’s concerns about the town’s OPEB obligations but he said the same issue is impacting the rest of the state and the U.S. He noted Standard and Poor’s upgraded the town’s credit rating to AA+ because “Lynnfield’s budgetary performance is strong” and “Lynnfield’s debt and liability is strong.”

While Barrett said he believes the town may need to allocate more funds for OPEB costs, he believes the town needs to be cautious because the federal government is keeping tabs on OPEB obligations and may “grab all of these funds and put them into a pool” in a couple of years. He accused Shea of supporting a level funded budget and not going up to the levy limit, which he said will make paying the town’s debt more difficult.

Union contracts

The candidates were asked what attributes they have that will prepare them for next year’s contract negotiations with the town’s unions.

While Shea said her company does not have unionized employees, she said her business experience will prepare her for contract negotiations. She also said believes the Finance Committee has to develop a long-range plan for contract negotiations.

Shea also said she is “not a public employee like my opponent” and she is “an employer who brings jobs to Massachusetts.” She said town employees “deserve to be treated fair and equitably but at the same time I also need to look out for the taxpayers and our obligation to pension and healthcare benefits.”

Barrett said he helped negotiate contracts with school employees as a member of the School Committee. He said Lynnfield teachers received “a below average” increase in pay, which he said was less generous than Everett gave its teachers. However, he said the contracts were “good for the town of Lynnfield.”

“We have to make sure what we are getting from these contracts help Lynnfield prosper in the years to come but we don’t want them to become a burden for the community,” Barrett added. “The one positive thing we have done is all of these contracts are coming out at the same time so we can make a plan that is positive for Lynnfield.”