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Town Meeting ’14 Session 3

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 try to 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. Sometimes I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

The Red Line was terrible tonight, and I got into the room a couple minutes late. From outside the hall I could hear the National Anthem being sung, but I didn’t see who performed it.

New members of Town Meeting were sworn in as I walked in.

Selectman Steve Byrne moved that the meeting reconvene on Wednesday.

Moderator John Leone made a couple of announcements:

  • Some precincts are set to organize tonight, and he reminded them of where to meet.
  • He said that to make electronic voting easier, he will be more deliberate in calling for electronic votes. He ran a test vote. I feel like tonight was the best night yet for the electronic voting.

Announcements

  • Gordon Jamieson and Juli Brazile from the Recycling Committee gave announcements. Collection Day is Saturday 10th 9-1pm. They talked about some of the committee’s plans beyond recycling.
  • Jim O’Conor. Tomorrow 15 members of Town Meeting will be visiting Minuteman Vocational.
  • Bob Tosi. Saturday is postal food donation day. Leave dry goods to be taken by the postal delivery person.

Reports

  • Stephen Gilligan asked that the report of treasurer be received.
  • Charles Kalauskas led a group of three people giving updates one the Master Plan. They reviewed the process that has been followed, the progress that has been made, and outlined the future timeline of events.

Article 10 – Cemetery Trustees
Stephen Harrington made a substitute motion. He said the Cemetery Trustees had failed to live up to their fiduciary responsibilities. He listed a number of things he thought the Cemetery Trustees has done incorrectly, including neglecting infrastructure and diverting funds inappropriately. He showed a number of photos of road conditions. He alleged that state law was violated in regards to spending of the cemetery trust fund. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine responded that there have been no appropriations of the principal. the Department of Revenue and the town’s independent auditor agree that the funding we have done is appropriate. Stephen Harrington tried to interrupt the town manager, but the moderator didn’t recognize him. Chapdelaine talked about addressing the cut-through and future budget plans. John Maher is opposed. We should not politicize the cemetery operations. We should keep the management of the cemetery (and other boards) under the Town Manager. Mr. Harris – the substitute motion won’t actually solve the problems outlined in the presentation. His rhetoric is often over the top, but it’s pretty good theater. You really have to see it to believe it. Sean Harrington wanted to know the last time the bridge in the cemetery was inspected. He’s concerned that the bridge might fall into the stream under it. He tried to ask a series of questions, but the moderator quashed them as “setup questions.” Sean Harrington further argued that just like the liquor license article last week, we should let the voters decide on cemetery trustees. Bill Moyer  moved to terminate debate. 154-47 debate is terminated. 58-141-4 the substitute motion failed. No action was approved.

Al Tosti announced the budgets for Minuteman will be in the back of the hall by 10pm.

Article 17 – Second Water Meters
Gary Tibbets proposed a substitute motion on allowing second water meters. He said that the motion was for water conservation. He went on to say that the meters wouldn’t charge for sewage usage, which was fair. This particular argument doesn’t hold water (pun intended). The town is already on a path where water usage for gardens and lawns will not be subject to sewer charges. Towards the back of the Selectmen’s report there is an appendix that describes the future of water billing in Arlington. This summer we will adopt a plan where the sewer rates are set by the winter usage – water used in December, January, and February. That means that water usage increases in the summer will be billed for the water usage only, not sewer.  Mr. Hayner spoke in favor of rate fairness. His speech continued the confusion, but it was soon corrected. Ryan Ferrara explained that the MWRA doesn’t have a water supply problem. The substitute motion won’t be effective at conserving water, he said. He explained the winter water usage plan. Town Manager Chapdelaine went into more detail on the winter water usage plan. Gordon Jamieson moved the question. 142-60 terminated debate. 62-139-3 substitute motion failed. No action approved.

Article 18 – Lake Street Signs
No Action – approved.

Article 19 – Junk Cars
Selectman Stephen Byrne explained that we get calls at the Board of Health, and they should be able to respond, not police officers. Stephen Harrington wanted to know the definition of junk cars. After hearing the definition of junk cars, he thinks it should stay with the police. John Leonard wanted to know if there was enough staff to do this. He also wanted to know the ticketing process. The questions were answered by Director of Health Christine Bongiorno. Roly Chaput wanted to make sure his garaged roadster was OK. It is. Paul Schlichtman moved terminate debate. 175-25-3 debate was terminated. Passed by majority voice vote.

Article 20 – Tar Sands
No action – approved.

Article 21 – Minuteman Regional Agreement
Al Tosti moved postpone to May 7 so that Dr. Bouquillon can be here. Postponed on voice vote.

10 minute break

Article 22 – Community Preservation Act
Selectman Joe Curro explained what the CPA is and how it can be used. I talked about how the CPA can be used to increase town revenue and mitigate the future override. Susan Stamps is one of the citizens who put the question on the warrant, and she was one of three up front able to answer questions. Chair of the ARB Mike Cayer shared ARB’s unanimous support. The CPA coordinates with Master Plan. Dean Carman thinks it is short-sighted and supports a no action vote. He thinks tax increases have been too high. He noted the coming override. He’s right that there is a coming override – but I think that means we should get additional state money, not rely on property taxes. He thinks we have not sufficiently planned the next several years. He thinks the tax increase is not necessary. On one hand he talks about the looming projection of the deficit, and on the other hand he says the tax increase is not necessary. I can’t reconcile those two statements. Mr. Ruderman used to be in favor of this, but now he’s opposed. He thinks there isn’t enough state money. Brian Rehrig urged the town to approve it. He went into details of the act. Roly Chaput supports the article. Al Tosti represented the opposition of the Finance Committee. They believe that the CPA is too much of a tax increase with overrides and school building coming. He thinks that the CPA is not a good priority. Annie LaCourt is in favor because it helps us with affordable housing. Charlie Foskett is opposed. He argued that this is a permanent misalignment of our spending priorities. I noted that after three FinCom members had spoken against the plan, none of them had acknowledged the state’s matching funds. It seems like the irrefutable argument. It’s one thing to say “the state funds aren’t worth the requirements that they impose” but that argument simply wasn’t made. I also note that while it was argued that the CPA is not good prioritization, each one of the examples in our presentation was from the report that FinCom had approved. I argue that they are highly prioritized items, and FinCom agrees with that prioritization. Stephen Harrington was opposed. Clarissa Rowe is in favor. She thinks that parks, playground, affordable housing, and historic preservation are critical. Marc Dohan is on the board of the Housing Corporation and asked for details on the reduction in federal spending in support of affordable housing. He is in favor. John Worden noted that the Master Plan discussion has included capitalizing on our historic character. He reported that the Historic District Commision is in favor. “We are not a suburb that sprang up after the war with a lot of ticky-tack.” Elsie Fiorie is in favor to support open space. Peter Howard went into details about the Community Preservation Committee. He is sure that the Capital Planning Committee and CPC can work together. Linda Hanson is in favor, but she’d like to see more about the 10-year look forward plan. She notes that the 5-year plan is not immutable, and Town Meeting can change it. I think Linda’s comments were particularly insightful. Town Meeting does control the long-term plan of the town. Separately, I was struck that both she and Dean asked for a 10-year plan. I haven’t tried to build one yet because the variables are so many and so large (Will the state agree to help work on the high school? Will we get a decent Minuteman building proposal? Are one or the other or both renovations or rebuilds, and what is the resulting price tag?  What will the economy be like in 5 years?) that I have hesitated to try to write a plan. I now think that it’s worth the attempt, unknowns be damned.  Angel Olszewski noted that the League of Women Voters and the Arlington Historical Society are in favor. She thinks the voters should decide. Diane Mahon also supported the CPA. She advocated for the state match, and for support of parks and athletic fields. We aren’t done yet, but I think this is a debate we should be proud of.  It’s a debate of ideas and facts and values, and the town is well served by it.

We adjourned for the night.

Comments

Comment from Mark Kaepplein
Time: May 6, 2014, 3:28 am

Arlington doesn’t spend enough on capital spending (maintenance), but that’s because it can’t control payroll spending which increased 12% from CY2012-CY2013 per IRS W-4 statements. That is what’s unsustainable. What I most dislike about CPA is giving money to private entities. Money for HCA instead of AHA. Signs for Schwamb Mill, and $250,000 to renovate a church basement as a food pantry. People behind these private organizations are the biggest backers of CPA. Also unsustainable is taking more taxable property off the books for open space. That is lost tax revenue every year in perpetuity besides the one time purchase cost! Town meeting needs to vote down the budget with head count increases. Its bad enough that part time jobs grow more hours without TM approval thanks to slush funds to draw from. Recycling coordinator is just one example of that – increased hours paid last year, and now asked for in the FY2015 budget. Try doing what others do – get the funding approval before doing it, not after. Want affordable housing? Reign in the tax increases!

Comment from Dean Carman
Time: May 6, 2014, 8:13 am

Dan, you and I both know that the supporters of this article do not want to spend CPA funds on projects that have been identified in the capital plan, but instead want to spend CPA funds on new commitments such as affordable housing, the Jason Russell House, Old Schwab Mill, etc.. There is no point in talking about the state match because most of the dollars that will be spent over a ten year period will be on new spending, then we will receive matching funds for more new spending.

It’s the equivalent of someone living paycheck to paycheck, but buying a $50,000 car and trying to argue with you that it was a great deal because they received $20,000 in rebates. The entire premise of the argument is based on a false choice – that the initial spending was necessary by the person.

I will point out the obvious – the only person who stood up last night to support the CPA on the basis of spending CPA money on existing town priorities was you, Dan Dunn. Sadly, you do not have a voice in this process. I believe that close to a majority of the people who could make up a potential CPA committee spoke last night and all of them emphasized spending money on new commitments, not existing priorities.

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: May 6, 2014, 9:37 am

Dean, there may well be a large group in town that see opportunities for new spending, but there is a second wave of people more active in town politics now that, while often lumped in with the same group, are quite a bit more fiscally conservative than that. Not because we don’t value the same things, but because we’re frankly much more pocket-book aware.

I think that Dan is aware of this, and if I were to presume to put words in his mouth I’d say that what he and I are aware of is that there are some strong voices that will step up to insure that money is spent in a manner that overtime strengthens Arlington’s fiscal position.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 6, 2014, 10:41 am

Dean – we are evidently going to continue to disagree.

I heard some people supporting projects that wouldn’t otherwise make the cut. But I also heard a lot of support for projects that _are_ on our priority list – parks, playing fields, Whittemore Robbins, and, yes, the Jason Russell House.

Your analogy about $20,000 rebates would be valid if, and only if, we adopt the CPA and spend it foolishly. I do not share your pessimism that foolish spending is inevitable.

You say that I don’t have a voice, or that I’m the only voice, for using CPA for prioritized capital projects. I’d like to draw your attention to the BoS report, which reads in part: “Such action is urged in part because CPA funds can and should be used to address the very capital projects outlined in the five-year capital plan that pose significant future costs to the Town; CPA funds can and should be used to delay and defray the anticipated general override; . . .” So we’re up to 4 voices.

You have a voice too. The spending authority under the CPA resides with town meeting. If the CPA starts making bad choices, you and I can lead the charge on town meeting floor.

I agree with you that the CPA would be a terrible thing if it were poorly executed. I believe that with good leadership and the will of town meeting that it will be well executed. I have faith that our town can handle the responsibility.

(http://www.town.arlington.ma.us/Public_documents/ArlingtonMA_TownMeet/2014ATM/reports/Selectmen_ReportTM2014.pdf)

Comment from dunster
Time: May 6, 2014, 10:53 am

Mark, it’s interesting that you pick the recycling coordinator to make your point. But is that really the example you want to pick? The position has been there for several years. The person helps us reduce the amount of trash that we incinerate, which saves the town money. Sure, we could cut the position – but the result would be more town spending, not less.

So, let’s look at the bigger argument that you’re making about head count increases. The facts still don’t support your case. I refer you to page 8 of the Budget Message portion of the Town Manager’s annual budget. The head count growth of rhetoric just isn’t there. http://www.arlingtonma.gov/Public_Documents/ArlingtonMA_Financial/budget/2014/index

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 6, 2014, 2:19 pm

Several of the speakers at Town Meeting confused me last night.

Mr. Tibbets kept characterizing his proposal as as a measure that would encourage lawn owners to reduce their summer water use, by avoiding the sewer charge for separately-metered lawn water.

If these households are not engaging in water conservation now, when they are unfairly charged double (for sewage costs they do not actually incur), why should they take up conservation when the water use is cheaper?

I don’t know what he was thinking, but these claims came across as a kind of greenwash hucksterism, trying to sell a product with false claims of environmental responsibility.

I was also baffled by some of the things that Mr. Foskett said about CRA funds. At one point he said that CRA would add costs every time the school hires a teacher. I understand that the CRA is a surcharge on taxation, but on spending? I do not follow.

He also seemed to say that all CRA revenue streams, sliced, diced and levelized, would total a tremendous sum, the equivalent of rebuilding most of our schools again.

It’s probably my fault but he really lost me with this stuff.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: May 6, 2014, 6:07 pm

Dan – National anthem you missed was performed by Kevin Greeley on piano and by Town Meeting members on vocals. He plays better than we sing!

Mark Kaepplein – You’re aggrieved by “giving money to private entities” including “$250,000 to renovate a church basement as a food pantry.” I emailed Health & Human Services Director Christine Bongiorno about the food pantry request in the Capital Plan. She replied: “This $150,000 in the capital budget was proposed with the hopes that I could find a new space to build out for a Pantry. The request in the capital budget was a request for approval to spend money that I intend to raise through fundraising over the next year. At the current time, I have not found a new space but continue to look.” So the $150K is to be privately raised, not taken from tax money, and will be used for a new space, not the present church basement space. In short: if you’re going to attack public funding of private entities, at least get the facts right.

Comment from Dean Carman
Time: May 6, 2014, 8:11 pm

Well Dan, I would have to say that our continued disagreement is your fault, because nine years ago if you and Mr. Foskett had simple chosen not to mentor your then 27 year old, inexperienced but passionate Finance Committee colleague with no filter, I would have flamed out of volunteer town government long ago.

So you’re stuck with what you molded and shaped, especially the one year our views differ…. and thanks, I’ll always be grateful 😉

Comment from Brendan O’Day
Time: May 8, 2014, 10:23 am

Can anybody track the evolution of the moving goalposts on this impending override we keep talking about? In 2011 we started at 3 years. Last year I believe we were talking urgently about something under $10m and more like in the 6 or 7 year range. Now we’re talking about how the CPA might affect a $12m override that is definitely, certainly, urgently, frightfully coming at us… in 2020?

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 9, 2014, 1:00 pm

@Brendan, they are not goalposts but rather educated guesses, and you seem to have done a good job of tracking them.

I am glad that at least the inevitable day of reckoning is receding rather than advancing.