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Town Meeting Session #8

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. I’m sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do not try to reproduce my entire notepad for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

The meeting started at 8:03. Jane Howard played the national anthem. The invocation was given by Rabbi Brown of Temple Isaiah. The next meeting was set for Wednesday the 28th (Monday is Memorial Day). There was an announcement unrelated to Town Meeting. The Explorer Post 911, which runs the microphones for Town Meeting, announced that people presenting a ticket to the Chateau restaurant in Waltham would have 25% of their bill donated to the Explorers. Selectman Clarissa Rowe came and left during the opening, while the rest of the selectmen were absent. They were still meeting, discussing Article 16 (subdivision control). They didn’t appear until roughly 9PM. They then announced that the proposed text for Article 16 will be on the town website tomorrow.

Article 2 – Reports, continued. [8:12] James McGough gave the report on the Cyrus Dallin museum. Moderator Leone encouraged him to give highlights, and not read the report. McGough reported on restoration and building needs on the 10th anniversary of the museum. I applaud Leone for moving the meeting along like this. Last year’s Dallin report was one of the factors that really set me off about meeting start times.

Article 53 – Budgets, continued. Vice Chair of the School Committee Joe Curran introduced the committee, gave brief remarks, and then invited Superintendent Levenson to speak on the budget. Levenson described the budget as “not completely terrible.” He reviewed the gains of the previous few years and the steps that were taken this year to hold on to those gains. The steps included the use of one-time money, raising fees, and a few position reductions. [8:32] There was a question about the state’s health insurance pool, the GIC, and if the town was looking to enter it (the answer was yes). There was a question about solar panels. There were questions and discussions of “town v. school” funding priorities. There were questions about maintenance, federal grants, kindergarten budgeting, and Pierce Field rental. There was more than one comment about legal fees. There were comments and questions about educational quality. Debate on the education budget was terminated [9:09].

Next up was the insurance budget. FinCom Chair Allan Tosti provided an amendment to the insurance budget that resolved the legal question raised in Monday’s discussion of Article 44. Maher and Tosti both backed off some of the things said on Monday. There were questions about the GIC and workplace safety. Gordon Jamieson moved an amendment that would redirect the Medicare Part D funds and use a different calculation for the amount of money paid by the Water and Sewer enterprise fund. Several speakers spoke against the amendment. Manager Brian Sullivan agreed that it was time to have an auditor review the Water and Sewer offset. Ryan Ferrara pointed out the large increase in the Water and Sewer number in 2007 when the number of water and sewer employees was revised. Debate was terminated [10:02]. Jamieson said something interesting that comes to the core of the argument for me. To paraphrase, he said “we should work the five-year plan as hard as possible.” The implication of this statement is that we should explore every possibility to spend the maximum amount of money possible under the five-year plan. I disagree with this approach. The five-year plan is a budgeting tool. It wasn’t written as an airtight law. It wasn’t written with anticipation of gamesmanship or attempts to stretch it to the limit. It’s a set of guidelines, and nothing more. Everytime we stretch the spending in the 5-year plan, we make the 6th and 7th year that much harder. I don’t look at these budgets and try to wring out the maximum amount of spending. I look at them and make the most reasonable choice that I can, within the spirit of the 5-year plan and the underlying budgetary needs. Every time I’m tempted to increase a budget, I look at the budget projection for FY2011. It puts things in perspective.

Allan Tosti moved to bring up the Minuteman budget, and it was approved.

Article 60 – Minuteman High. Allan Tosti introduced Laura Morrisette, the Arlington representative to the Minuteman School Committee. She talked about the good things that Minuteman does, and invited people to get to know it better. She introduced the new superintendent, Dr. Ed Bouquillion. He spoke for a few minutes, talking about being a partner in innovation, not just education. He talked about his intent to reduce the cost of Minuteman. Several speakers praised the new direction of the school. The budget was approved. I continue to appreciate the straight talk delivered by the new superintendent.

Article 53 – Budgets, continued. There were questions about water and sewer and the rink and recreation. Jamieson’s amendment failed. The budgets were approved.

Article 44 – OPEB, continued. Stephen Gilligan moved to reconsider, and it was approved. Allan Tosti re-presented the same text from Monday. It was approved.

Article 55 – Thompson School. Voted no action.

Article 56 – Outdoor Pool Committee creation. Allan Tosti noted that the expectation was that this committee should create a zero-cost proposal, presumably an enterprise fund. After a few comments, it was approved.

Article 57 – Sewer Facility. Voted unanimously.

Article 58 – Water facility. After some discussion, voted unanimously.

Article 59 – Rescind Authority to Borrow. Treasurer Stephen Gilligan explained that this improved the town’s credit worthiness by taking this unneeded borrowing authority off the books. Voted unanimously.

Article 61 – Celebrations. After a question about flags, approved unanimously.

Article 62 – Commissions. After a comment on the Commission on Disability, approved. As has been said before, the first step to getting money is to propose a budget . . .

Article 63 – Transportation Advisory Committee. Voted no action.

Article 64 – Miscellaneous Appropriations. Approved unanimously.

Article 65 – Town Water Bodies. Selectman Rowe explained that this is still going through the legislature, and this vote is just in case it fails. Voted 110-0.

Article 66 – Harry Barber Program. Approved.

Article 67 – Local Option Taxes. Tabled.

Article 68 – Tip Fee Stabilization Fee. Approved unanimously.

Article 69 – Tip Fund. Voted no action.

Article 70 – Cometary Fund Transfer. Voted unanimously.

Article 71 – Overlay Reserve Fund. After a question on the remaining value, voted unanimously.

Article 72 – Stabilization Fund. Voted unanimously.

There was a motion to adjourn that failed. [10:56]

Article 73 – Unencumbered Funds. Approved.

Article 74 – Medicare Part D. Voted no action.

Article 75 – Pension Reporting. Tosti explained that with the recent decision by the Retirement Board, that FinComm had voted no action. After a comment, voted no action.

Article 76 – Cost of Non-Profits. The Selectmen recommended no action. After a comment, voted no action.

Article 77 – Budgeting. Voted no action.