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Town Meeting ’11 – Session 10

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I type 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 notes 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.

Town Meeting Member Charlie Gallagher led the Town Meeting in the national anthem.

Moderator John Leone said that he was taking his jacket off because of the heat. I had already taken my jacket and tie off – Town Hall is not a cool room! I resisted changing to shorts.

Moderator John Leone said that we could be done tonight if we finished.

We voted to return Monday 13th if we don’t finish tonight. Thankfully, this vote was rendered moot.

There was a presentation made to Harry McCabe and Elsie Fiore in recognition of their 50 years of membership in Town Meeting.

Clarissa Rowe and Cindy Starks thanked the town for their vote in the override.

Sheri Baron gave the Human Rights Commission report.

Article 7 – Cemetery Use in Open Space

David Bean moved reconsideration of the article. He said there were scheduling issues with the original date and wanted to explain the article. Paul Schlictman opposed reconsideration because he thinks the original idea is still flawed and needs to be revised. Reconsideration failed 68-73 (required 2/3 – wasn’t even close). I waffled on this one. Part of me wanted to hear the issue, but part of me knew that the article had no chance without further revision.

Article 31 GIC

No action, approved by voice vote.

Article 34 Pay As You Throw

Clarissa Rowe gave the recommendation of Board of Selectmen of no action. Pete Howard had a resolution as a substitute motion. He requested extra time for a longer presentation; the request was denied by voice vote. The vote wasn’t even close. It was a sign that town meeting wanted to finish, and was a bit impatient. Howard and others gave a presentation about how PAYT would be implemented. They provided the framework of how the costs of the program might be implemented. Patricia Worden spoke against the plan. A speaker spoke against some of the details of the framework on the basis of pennies per pound. This was very disheartening, and really speaks to why I didn’t want this debate tonight. The proposal was a loose resolution, and it didn’t have unified support of the town’s leadership. The result was predictable – a debate without a common framework, without common facts, that simply wasn’t productive. Half of the arguments were made against strawmen that simply weren’t a part of the proposal, but couldn’t be meaningfully debated because there was no firm proposal to compare it to. Mr. Worden spoke against. He offered an amendment to the resolution to make it include a vote of the town. Several speakers were in favor and against the resolution. I spoke against it. Al Tosti reported that Finance Committee thinks that a revenue-producing PAYT needs a vote of the town. Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate. Worden’s amendment approved by voice. Howard’s motion down by voice vote. No action on the article was approved. This issue was a tough one for me, and the debate was torture. As I said in my speech, I think that PAYT is a good idea. The challenge is that people are very passionate about it, both for and against, and we need to be delicate, careful, and deliberate in how we get PAYT done. Furthermore, I don’t think we can implement PAYT as a revenue source during the 3-year plan that we just kicked off with the override. However, I think we can do it in a revenue-neutral way. I’m committed to working on that over the next year. I just wish we could have skipped this whole painful debate. The result was predicted, and it just hurt.

Article 35. No action.

Article 54. Collective Bargaining.

Town Manager Brian Sullivan reported on the agreements for FY10 and FY11 that had been reached. He outlined the terms of the deal. Al Tosti reported the strong endorsement of the agreements of the Finance Committee. Terminated debate. Question on the language of the article from Harry McCabe. Approved by voice vote.

We took a 10 minute break.

Article 56. Budgets.

We had “holds” for discussion on the Selectmen budget, Town Manager, Personnel, Planning, Public Works, Community Safety, Education, Libraries, Health and Human Services, Insurance, and Water and Sewer.

Selectmen question on elections – yes, they are budgeted. There was discussion about the deputy town manager. There was an explanation that the Personnel budget is increasing so as to handle the anticipated plan design changes. Question on where computers are purchased – from capital, not from this budget. There was a question about changing the assistant planning director position to an economic development position. Planning Director Carol Kowalski explained that this will expand business opportunities in the town. There was a question about why the Conservation Commission budget was in Planning. Question on the amount of salt used. Question on adding weekly recycling – maybe during next negotiation. Paul Schlictman with questions about parking. He also had a question about fire staffing – “Do we need these add backs, since some firefighters on the Arlington email list don’t think we need them?” Chief Jefferson said they were needed. Question about patrolman v. ranking officers – more of the former, fewer of the latter. Questions on number of firefighters – 76 next year. Question on police overtime – it’s higher, but reflects actual expenditure.

There were many schools questions. Question on traffic supervisors – same number in FY12 as FY11, which is 13. There was a long thread about  adding grant writers to get more grants. Questions about maintenance. Question on special education management. There was a question about last year’s budget problems, and budget controls. The first answer out of the CFO’s mouth was “It’s not an overrun in spending, we just didn’t have enough revenue.” It was a frustratingly tone-deaf answer. I know that it’s frustrating to keep coming back to the same problem, but it has to be done, and it has to be handled properly.  Thankfully the second half of her answer was much better – she talked about the systems changes that have been implemented to make sure the budget problems don’t recur. There was a question on Thompson. Lyman Judd asked questions that were answered in the budget book. Paul Bayer moved the question on education.

Libraries question was asked without a clear answer.

Gordon Jamieson passed on questions on Insurance and Water and Sewer. This was gracefully done – we were so close to getting done.

Budgets were approved.

There were two different motions to adjourn voted down. It’s so much better to stay a little late and not have to come back on Monday!

Article 68 – OPEB

Charlie Foskett walked through the OPEB partial payment and how it’s funded. Substitute motion from Al Tosti made. Passed on voice vote unanimously.

Article 69 – COLA Base

Charlie Foskett explained how this vote would be an increase in the amount of salary that gets a COLA increase. The COLA now applies to the first $12,000 of salary; this would include an increase of $1000 in the base per year for three years. He explained that this is part of a complex deal with FinComm, Retirement Board, and the Town Manager. Motion substituted by voice vote, approved by voice vote unanimously.

Article 75 – Override Stabilization Fund

Tosti made a substitute motion. There was a question on how to protect this from losses like the last override savings, which was answered by Treasurer Stephen Gilligan. Approved.

On motion by Al Tosti, the meeting was dissolved.


Comment from Len
Time: June 9, 2011, 10:31 am

Yes, the PAYT debate was misguided and a distraction. We should have used the full night on the budget and instead had to rush through some of it. I would have loved to know the dollar impact of Article 69 – it was the right thing to do but Town Meeting should have had that info. I didn’t want to ask at 11:15.

Comment from Bill
Time: June 9, 2011, 2:11 pm

That they tried to implement PAYT just 24 hours after a huge tax increase really speaks to how blinded by zealotry the proponents if this plan are. This debate, and time spent on Article 7, were a waste of Town Meeting’s time, and absolutely impacted the time spent on serious budget discussions. Frankly, it was a poor choice to spend time on announcements and reports, too, though the acknowledgement of Mr. McCabe’s and Ms. Fiore’s service was nice. Frankly, throughout Town Meeting, I resented time spent on announcements, but on what we all hoped would be the last night, it was just uncalled for. There are lots of outlets in the town to disseminate information–newspaper, town website, town e-mail notification, town meeting e-mail list. Just because 240 people are crammed into Town Hall to enact important town business doesn’t mean they should be subjected to 15 minutes of advertising each night before they can get to work. I’d like to see a lot fewer announcements and much faster board report presentations in the future. At about 15-20 minutes each night over ten sessions, Town Meeting spent 2 1/2 to 3 1/3 on these distractions–more time than we spent on almost any article before us.

Comment from Daniel P.
Time: June 9, 2011, 3:38 pm

Seems to me the timing of the PAYT was poor but it may have intentionally been left until after the override vote. Let’s say the override had failed, PAYT would have been good opportunity to debate a potentially less onerous savings/revenue source.

Since the override DID pass….as much as I think PAYT throw is absoutly the right idea, the timing was poor and it should have been withdrawn out of respect for the Town’s very fresh commitment on the override.

I believe the point of PAYT is to get people to recycle MORE and trash LESS. There must be ways to do that without charging per bag.

Maybe distributing big recycling wheeled carts like so many towns now have. Make it easier for people to recycle more and they will. Leave them with the same 15 gallon blue box household recycling started with and that’s as much as many people will use.

Comment from TMM
Time: June 9, 2011, 5:41 pm

I’m glad the Madrigal Singers didn’t show up the last session.

Comment from dunster
Time: June 9, 2011, 8:53 pm

@Len – I’m sure you can email or call Charlie Foskett and he’ll tell you.

@Bill – I think you’re right that there is a way to make that part of the meeting tighter.

@Daniel – I’m inclined to think that we’re reaching our limits on “make it easy” for improvements on recycling rates. I think that the “do it to save yourself money” is going to encourage a set of laggards to start recycling.

Comment from William J. Logan, Esq.
Time: June 10, 2011, 12:33 am

I think recycling is great and my family does too and we all do it as much as possible. The Recycling Comm persistence however with trying to implement PAYT has in my opinion, makes the committee look like it’s only purpose is to make us pay for trash. While I know that is not true, it appears that way. Perhaps if it is presented again, an individual should file it and not the RC.

Comment from Patrick
Time: June 10, 2011, 10:52 am

If Arlington votes to have the multi-million dollar override AND votes for the pay-as-you-throw trash, then I’m definitely moving out.

Comment from dunster
Time: June 10, 2011, 10:58 am

Hey Patrick – what if we do PAYT, but lower taxes at the same time? Raise roughly $2 million in trash fees, but lower the tax bill by $2 million?

Comment from The Widge
Time: June 10, 2011, 1:47 pm

You really believe they would lower the tax bill with passage of PAYT? No way.

Comment from dunster
Time: June 10, 2011, 2:17 pm

Widge – In short, yes, I do.

Longer: One of the ideas I’m leaning towards is to link them. Put it on the ballot as a linked question. “Do you want PAYT and lower taxes?” And then do what the voters ask for. I like it because I think it will pass (and I like PAYT), and I like it because it doesn’t raise the amount of money we’re asking for from taxpayers (tax, fee, whatever you call it).

Comment from Steve Cella
Time: June 10, 2011, 2:39 pm

I am against Payt as it is but I could be persuaded to support it if it was cost neutral (add the trash fee/remove cost of trash pickup from the tax bill) and it covered the actual costs of trash removal. I might even be persuaded to vote for it if it raised a little extra revenue if that revenue went to a specific purpose ie. roads for example.

As it has been presented however I am totally against it. It seems like it has been presented more recently just as a way to raise extra revenue.

Also implementing it as it has been presented changes the whole dynamics of why we pay property taxes in the first place. I hope it would not come to it but what is next..if you send more than 1 child through the school systems should you then have to pay more?? What about using the libraries.. if you go more then once a period (whatever that may be) would you then have to pay more per visit, or emergency services?? I think you can see where I am going with this but the point is that the idea of equity by spreading the costs around is then thrown out the window with payt as it was presented.

Further isn’t there a way to reward people for recycling?? For example is it possible to have people volunteer for a program like this and if they do end up saving the town money then couldn’t they split the savings with the town. If it is successful it will naturally attract more people. So If the goal is to reduce costs and increase recycling rather than just raising extra revenue then would this not be another way to do it?? Then again maybe the amount of people volunteering and the amounts saved may not be worth any case these types of alternatives are what the recycling committee etc..should be looking into over the next year or two if they have not already done so and if they have they should make it part of their presentation and let us know.

Comment from Sue Doctrow
Time: June 11, 2011, 12:28 am

Dan said: “… – what if we do PAYT, but lower taxes at the same time? Raise roughly $2 million in trash fees, but lower the tax bill by $2 million?”

I, for one, am glad to hear you propose this concept, Dan. I was very disappointed that PAYT was taken out of this years’ override vote, though I still voted “Yes for Arlington”..I felt it was truly the only choice I could make if I’m going to continue to live here. After some discussions (with Clarissa Rowe and Kirsi Allison), I came to understand the reasoning for having kept PAYT out of the override vote. If we now could propose PAYT in conjunction with an “underride” of some sort, I think it would be great. Personally, as a member of a family of two that recycles a lot, I don’t appreciate subsidizing larger and/or less-recycling families’ trash. Anything to incentivize more people to recycle as much as possible, please let’s do it!

Comment from Sue Doctrow
Time: June 11, 2011, 12:44 am

p.s. I heard an objection from somebody to converting what is now part of property tax (tax deductible, assuming no AMT) to a PAYT fee (non-deductible, according to the objection). Honestly, as a percent of property tax, we’re not talking about all that much money and I, personally, could not care less about losing this potential deduction. To me, redistributing the costs so that they are proportional to use (i.e. to amount of trash) and, also, encouraging more recycling are more important, and fairer, goals than preserving this small tax deduction.

Comment from Colin
Time: June 14, 2011, 12:07 pm

Do you know what the addbacks are, by department, next year now that the budget is now passed? Or is there a new town budget available (the current FY12 budget on the town website shows the pre-override budget levels)

I think that PAYT is a good idea, but this is not the right time for it- if the override hadn’t passed, I’d say absolutely yes, but a few increase right after a voluntary tax increase will not leave a good feeling w/ voters. However, with the new recycling coordinator being hired for next year, could that person enforce the existing recycling bylaws more thoroughly? I see some houses (not that many but still some) that have NO recycling out each week- clearly they must be using some recyclable goods (milk, newspapers, bottled water), but throwing them in the trash- could the recycling coordinator be assigned to investigate whether these individuals are violating the recycling bylaw and deal with it as a TBL violation if they are?

Comment from Boston Plumbing
Time: February 15, 2012, 4:22 pm

It is amazing anything gets done when cemetery space takes multiple sessions. But i guess these things affect a lot of people.