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Finance Committe hears the Town Manager

(Writer’s note: I’m behind in my notes, basically a meeting behind. These are from Wednesday of last week. I’m not going to get to tonight’s meeting until later this week. Black text is mostly objective, red text is mostly subjective in nature.)

Town Manager Sullivan and Deputy Town Manager Galkowski were at Wednesday’s meeting, and they spoke on the first several items discussed.

Article 28 is about creating, through home-rule legislation, a special fund for the purposes of managing the properties that the town owns but rents to others. The fund will collect rents, pay expenses, and (this is the special part) save money for capital improvements. There was some discussion about whether or not the town should sell some of the unused schools and what the numbers were around that question. There was discussion about whether or not the properties could make payments in lieu of taxes to the town – the answer appears to be yes. I found myself wondering if we could convince Minuteman that Arlington was a perfect place to go if it wants a smaller campus.

The next topic was how to fund the collective bargaining agreements (Articles 39 and 40). The library union’s FY07 agreement was voted last year. The library FY08, and all unions except fire and police have agreed for FY07 and FY08. Fire and police negotis are ongoing for FY07 and FY08. The agreements include 2.5% salary increase in FY07, 3% in FY08, and an additional .5% increase once a change in health care copayments is implemented. It will cost approximately $600,000 in FY07 and $1.2M in FY08 to cover this. The manager outlined th sources for the funding. I think the agreements that have been made are headed in the right direction. They will, hopefully, help the town manage the cost of health care and keep and attract a skilled and motivated workforce.

Next up was hiring an Energy Manager, Article 43. The manager didn’t think this was a good idea at this time, but was creating a working group to look at energy managerment. He mentioned the hiring of the new DPW head, John Bean is coming from Greenfield and starts April 17. Seems like the right way to go, to me. There is good work to be done in this area, but it may be best performed by a consultant. I’m not ready to sign up for a permanent position in this area without more data.

Articles 48, 49, 50, 53, and 54 were all briefly discussed. The first three are relatively small-number appropriations for celebrations, commissions, and micellaneous spending. The other two are big-ticket, no-interest loans from the MWRA.

The manager shared a memo that he gave to the Board of Selectmen about the governor’s proposed budget. Overall, the budget includes about $400,000 less than the town had budgeted.

The Veteran’s Rink capital costs were discussed. The manager talked about pushing for private or state funding to mitigate the cost to the town. I remain skeptical of this plan. It’s a lot of money to commit without a real plan. There’s nothing to actually vote on until next year, so we’ll see how it shapes up.

The manager expressed support for Article 18 and the importance of having a strong IT department.

The manager is still working on the Venner Road property (discussed at last year’s Town Meeting here and here).

There were several other questions and discussions, including Symmes sale, Spy Pond maintenance, grafitti, fire department overtime and regionalization of government services. (I think I captured the big ones, and I apologize if I left one out).

Christine Connolly gave a presentation about the reorganization of departments into the current Health and Human Services. The bottom line of Budget 21 was a bit smaller than it used to be. I don’t know how old she is, but I think I might be older than her. If so, that would be the first person younger than me in the room in the last year (Sean Garballey on 3/20/06, clearly has me beat). I’m not sure why I bring this up. It’s just that in everything else I do in my life, I’m surrounded by people my age or younger. It’s odd to me that at the age of 34 I’m the young one. What really matters: It was a good presentation. UPDATE: It turns out that one of my fellow committee members, Dean Carman, is a full 5 years younger than me. For some reason I thought he was born in 1970, but I was giving him 7 years credit! My point is less compelling now. Don’t worry, Dean, 30 isn’t too bad. There were a few questions about fees and state reimbursements for veterans’ expenses.

The committee reviewed a $130,000 transfer request from the annual reserve fund to the workman’s compensation budget. The request detailed the reasons for the out-of-budget expenses. The committee had been warned previously that this was coming, and the request was approved. Just like that, 37% of our reserves get used.

Article 57 was up next. This had been discussed in general terms at a previous meeting. The article is to further fund the OPEB liability (general discussion of OPEB here). The article combines the money that has previously been funded, this year’s contribution, the increased retiree health care payments, and Medicare Part D payments into the base OPEB fund. I made a motion that 50% of the Medicare Part D payments go into this fund with the intent that the other part of the Medicare Part D funds go towards the health insurance budget. Keep reading – I’m about to take a U-turn. I said that I was concerned that the federal government was giving us this money to compensate us for providing health care prescription benefits, and we were spending the money on something else. I said that I knew that the Selectmen had chosen to dedicate these funds to the OPEB liability as a part of their vote to increase the retiree health care premium from 10% to 15%, but I noted that doesn’t require that FinCom agree with the decision. The counter-argument was made that we are spending the money entirely on health care, particularly for retirees. Furthermore the change would disrupt a political practicality: the selectmen would be in trouble if we removed one of the terms of their deal. The subtext to this argument, of course, is the 5-year plan. If the health insurance line item can be made to look smaller than a 7% increase, then the plan allows for the town and school budgets to rise by more than they did in FY07. I made the amendment in good faith. Until that night I hadn’t heard the argument for putting the Medicare Part D funds towards OPEB. I had heard that it was true, but hadn’t questioned the decision. I should have asked the question earlier; at least I asked it before the vote, not after! The argument against my amendment was compelling. It was the end of the meeting and we were running out of time. I didn’t get a chance to explain my vote. As it was, I voted against my own amendment. I’d been convinced by the discussion to change my mind. I’m sure that everyone in the room thought I was crazy or wasting their time or both. It wasn’t my intent. I had real questions about the motion, and the discussion resolved them. My amendment failed 3-12. The main motion carried.


Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Finance Committee Votes Budgets and Articles
Time: March 25, 2007, 8:36 pm

[…] Article 28 was discussed (first discussion here). A vote of support failed 2-10, and a recommendation of no action carried by 10-2. The proponents thought this was a good way to manage the school properties. The opponents to the idea believed that the accounting can (and has) been done without requiring a special fund. The special fund removes budgeting flexibility in that it sequesters up to $500,000 a year. […]

Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Finance Committee Approves Reserve Fund Transfers
Time: June 5, 2007, 11:13 pm

[…] Finance Committee met tonight to review several transfers out of the reserve fund. Every year Town Meeting appropriates a few hundred thousand dollars into a reserve fund. The finance committee approves transfers out of the fund into regular budgets as requested by various departments. Some transfers were made earlier in the year, but most transfers happen at the end of the year as budgets reach a close. […]