Town Meeting ’12, Session 7
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.
The Board of Selectmen meeting ran late, so I was late to Town Meeting. I walked in during Dick Smith’s announcement, and I missed the moderator’s comments. I can reconstruct the rest of the opening, but may have missed comments and announcements.
Jane Howard opened Town Meeting with the “Star-Spangled Banner” on piano.
The next meeting was set for Wednesday, May 16, at 8PM.
Dick Smith made an announcement about Citizen’s United. I imagine that it was the same announcement he made on the first night.
Article 25 – Ban Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers, continued
Moderator John Leone reprised the discussion so far: opponents to leaf blowers think they blow all sorts of nasty things in the air. Proponents of leaf blowers think they are wonderful labor-saving devices. He asked speakers to avoid repetition on these points.
Bob Radochia made a substitute motion. He would restrict use of leaf blowers to certain months, Oct 15 to May 15, the months where leaves are generally found on the ground. Maria Romano spoke against both substitute motions. She said to ignore the scare the tactics and to permit people to continue to use the tools they want. She suggested that people who aren’t happy with leaf blowers should move out of town. Bill Kaplan moved to terminate debate, and it was approved. Radochia’s substitute motion was approved 84-81. That left the meeting in a state of much confusion. If we have two substitute motions, and they are both approved, then which motion is the final one? In retrospect, I think we should have taken Bob Radochia’s motion as an amendment, not a substitute – that would have been more straight forward to vote on. As it is, I think the will of the meeting was done, and that is what matters. Band’s substitute went down by voice. Radochia’s substitute motion was approved 95-85.
Article 40 – Budgets
Finance Committee Chair Al Tosti gave a brief introduction of the budget. The moderator ran through the list of budgets, and interested members called “hold” for budgets they had additional questions for.
Planning and Community Development. Mark Kappelein would like to know where Mass Ave reconstruction easements are budgeted – the answer is, they are not in appropriated funds, but in Chapter 90 funds.
Redevelopment Board: Gordon Jamieson asked a question about Gibbs expenses – should it be under Redevelopment or Planning? The answer is the same people will do the work regardless of how the town votes in Article 27.
Public Works: Ed Trembly: how much salt did we use last year? Mike Rademacher said we bought 4193 tons at a cost of $269,000 with about 90% of it used. It was noted that last year we budgeted $577k for ice and snow, and we spent $507k. It was the lightest winter in years. Christian Klein asked what drove the lower street lighting budget – the answer is LED street lights. Paul Schlictman moved to terminate debate on the article, and that failed on voice vote. There was further discussion.
Community Safety: Bruce Wheltle spoke about animal control, and asked for more enforcement on dog control. Annie LaCourt asked about fire and police overtime, and both chiefs responded. There was a question about the addition of a custodian. It is for better maintenance of the building as we invest in it. Paul Schlictman talked about increasing parking enforcement for revenue purposes.
Inspection. Chris Loreti asked about Symmes one-time expenses, and compared it to work at the former Brighams site.
Education: Chairman Kirsi Allison-Ampe gave an introduction. She remarked on the additions made to the budget in the last two years, and noted that the budget is still below 2010. Superintendent Kathy Bodie gave a presentation that ran through the achievements of the schools and the budget proposal for next year. There was significant discussion about special education costs.
We had a 10 minute break.
Janice Weber asked about $3000 support for the annual census – there was no immediate answer. John Leonard asked about the state’s accelerated payment of school rebuilding costs, and it was answered that they have been received and placed in the general fund. They are tracked in the capital budget, not the operating budget. Stephen Harrington – noted that the school budget has increased significantly over the last several years, and the report indicates a decrease in athletics spending. There was a discrepancy in numbers for FY11 in the FinCom and School budgets, which was explained that one was after the fall Special Town Meeting and one was after the regular spring Town Meeting. Alan Jones noted that such discrepancies would become less likely if the town adopted a more coordinated finance department as recommended by the DoR. I thought this was a great comment by Alan. Often times when I want to talk about the challenges of our current financial organization, I find it very difficult to say what I want without sounding like I’m attacking someone, even when that is not my intent. Alan managed to find a neutral example – no one was exactly wrong, but the numbers sure weren’t right – they were not coordinated. He managed to make the point about financial coordination changes without it being a fight. Roland Chaput: asked about technology in the schools, and supported the improvements there. David Good answered at length. Paul Schlictman asked a question on athletic spending. CFO Diane Johnson said that FY11 was new budget tracking method, and that lead to errors in tracking. She suggested that athletic spending wasn’t actually cut, but the tracking wasn’t accurate. This year, there is better tracking. John Deyst said we have the best schools in world. There was a question on maintenance of Dallin. Carl Wagner complimented the school department on producing a good report. Bill Berkowitz asked why not have a full-time grant writer? Bodie: It’s a limited budget. I sympathize with this question. Either there are additional grants to pursue, or there aren’t, and the answer was not clear. Mark Kapplein: Followed up on athletic spending question from earlier, and then asked a series of questions on the cost of baseball helmets, concussion testing for all sports, early childhood education, the use of iPads in a pilot program and more. His time ran out. There was a question on bringing back ACE program that was responded to by Dr. Bodie.
Libraries: Gordon Jamieson elicited an answer that we do not need a waiver this year.
Insurance: Roland Chaput asked about HRA subscriber fee – it’s part of the new GIC program. Linda Hanson asked about the balance on the Health Care Trust Fund. It has about $3million left in it. That was more money than I realized. Finding the right use for that money is going to be complex.
Water and Sewer. Gordon Jamieson had several questions about several of the monetary flows. Al Tosti said that next year’s budget will show offsets more clearly, and perhaps balance sheet. Janice Brodman asked about increased stormwater drain costs. Rademacher says it is because of expected, more stringent EPA regulations.
Youth Services. Christine Connolly talked about the dramatic change and success in the delivery model of youth services support, with more than 200 clients today.
The budget was approved unanimously.
With 20ish articles left, and most of them as no-brainer finance articles, I think we have a very good chance of finishing on Wednesday! Here’s hoping for brevity and dispatch.