Community Profile

Leicester seeks to boost commercial tax base

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 1/13/2001

Leicester at a glance
Incorporated: 1722
Population: 11,500
Area: 24.7 square miles
Distance from Boston: 46 miles
Tax rate: $16.89 per $1,000
Form of government: Open town meeting, five selectmen
Median house price: $134,900
Public schools: Leicester Primary School (K-2), Leicester Memorial School(3-5), Leicester Middle School (6-8), Leicester High School (9-12). BayPath Vocational High (9-12)
Nearest hospital: several in abutting Worcester
LEICESTER - Unlike many Massachusetts communities facing unchecked growth and the lack of affordable housing, this bedroom town, 46 miles west of Boston, doesn't have such worries. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

The biggest challenge facing Leicester is the need for more recreational spaces and ballparks, according to the board of selectmen's vice chairman, Thomas Brennan, who also volunteers as a baseball coach.

When pressed, Brennan acknowledged that a recently completed master plan calls for an increase in the town's commercial tax base, a goal that has eluded town officials ever since the wool mills closed nearly 200 years ago.

Today, 89 percent of the real taxes are generated from single-family homes.

"We're trying to become a more proactive rather than a reactive community," Brennan said. "We need to become more business-friendly to attract a commercial tax base."

The town has expanded its water and sewer infrastructure and expects to improve sewer availability along Route 9. The major route through town handles 25,000 vehicles per day. But despite the investment of substantial tax dollars, so far no new major businesses have come to town.

"We believe we've done an awful lot to position ourselves for the next economic upswing, particularly in commercial and industrial sectors," said James Purcell, town administrator.

Leicester, pronounced Lester, gets its name from Leicester, England, and offers its residents country living with numerous lakes, ponds, and streams within commuting distance to Worcester, where most residents work.

The town is comprised of three villages: Leicester Center, Cherry Valley, and Rochdale. Becker Junior College helps maintain the town's rural character with substantial green space.

The principal highways are Route 9, which runs east to west across the state; Route 56, which connects the town north and south; and the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90), which passes near the southern boundary of the community. Passenger rail service is available in nearby Worcester and a portion of Leicester comprises Worcester Airport.

While the median sales price for single-family homes has been soaring in surrounding communities since the early 1990s, Leicester saw price drops in 1992, 1994, and 1997, according to the Warren Group. For the first 10 months of 2000, the median price for a home was $134,900.

The Multiple Listing Service lists 17 homes for sale - from a corner-lot, two-bedroom, one-bath ranch built in 1947 for $99,900 to a new waterfront Cape that features four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, two fireplaces, a two-car garage and a deck on a cul-de-sac for $524,900. In the middle range are five homes priced $109,900 to $174,900 and 10 homes priced $205,000 to $499,900.

Purcell, the town administrator, said that while construction of 60 units of housing may not seem like much to surrounding communities, it represents a 100 percent increase from a few years ago. "It's definitely a miniboom to Leicester," he said. "We've added balance to the housing stock with the addition of more expensive homes. As a result, school enrollment grew by more than 60 pupils last year and we've had to put considerable money into improving facilities."

The recent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test scores showed a dramatic need for improvement in nearly every subject level and grade. On the plus side, 57 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in science and among eighth-graders, 64 percent are proficient in English and 37 percent proficient in science.

Among the most unsettling scores, however, were: 73 percent of fourth-graders need improvement in English and 57 percent in math; 27 percent of eighth-graders failed history and math; and 44 percent of the 10th-graders failed the math exam and 58 percent need improvement in science.

Crime has not been a factor in Leicester, with the number of burglaries, assaults, larcenies, and motor vehicle incidents at 150 in 1999, according to the Executive Office of Public Safety. But last year, there were two murders, a domestic dispute that took the lives of Debra Kucher, 37, and her 9-year-old daughter Kassie Lee in their Chapel Street home. Kucher's estranged boyfriend was charged with the crime and is awaiting trial.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 1/13/2001.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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