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Town Meeting ’15 – Session 4

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 moderator started us up a minute or two before 8. We watched a video of a mock Town Meeting of Thompson School students moderated by Bill Hayner.

The AHS Madrigal Singers sang the National Anthem and several other songs.

The Town Moderator swore in one new town meeting member.  He was applauded.

The Town Moderator asked for a moment of silence for the man who died in the condo fire on Arizona Terrace early Tuesday morning.

We voted to return for the next session on May 11.

Announcements

  • Jason Donnelly announced that on May 16 Thompson Arlington Eats fundraiser. They have provided 7500 meals for Arlington kids this year.
  • Stuart Cleinman thanked police and fire for their service in the crisis.
  • Pam Hallett announced a fund to support the families displaced by the fire. Donate on the HCA site and type “fire” in the note field.
  • John Maher – Symmes foundation makes grants for medical purposes. Contact him for more information.
  • Jane Howard gave four announcements. 1) Saturday, at Spy Pond Park. Elements art illustration. 2) May 16 9-1. Spy Pond Trails Day. 3) 30th 1-4pm Spy Pond Fun Day. 4) On the 2nd floor of town hall, see the public school art show, k-9.
  • Bob Tosi – May 9 postal food drive.
  • Paul Schlichtman – Pct 9 doing their organization at the break.

Test question for the clicker: Will we finish Town Meeting on Monday? 101-76-18 I think we can finish Monday, but it will be close.

Article 3 – Reports

  • Susan Stamps and Ed Trembly – Tree Committee. They talked about tree replacements and policies.
  • Ann LeRoyer – Open Space Committee. She referred to the new Open Space plan.  It’s the 4th version of the plan. I read this plan earlier this spring, and I found it to be fascinating. Bring it to bed with you later this week – it’s good reading.
  • Juli Brazile – Vision 2020 report. Survey results are available. She ran through the activities of the different task groups.

Article 3 was tabled. We finished announcements at around 8:45 – I forgot to note the exact time. It was the latest we’ve run this year so far, I think.

Article 17
No action.

Article 18 – Community Development Block Grant
Kevin Greeley reported the history and process on the allocation of these federal funds. There was a question on the brown fields cleanup that is contemplated. We discussed the “program income” that is the money that comes back from loans, and is re-applied to the program. There was a question if the grant money will be used for the Housing Corporation of Arlington when that group is doing a 40B development in town. I think it is important to note that not all 40B applications are bad. Some 40B applications are attempts to bulldoze town zoning. Those plans are wildly oversized in order to maximize developer profits, and the actual benefit to affordable housing is limited. On the other hand, the 40B proposal being put forward by the HCA for Westminster Ave is an appropriate use of the property in question, it is making the affordable housing perpetual, and there are no profits being reaped. I encourage people to investigate the details of the various 40B proposals in town – they are very different in their qualities and impact. It was noted that the Community Preservation Act will take some pressure off the CDBG program. Motion to terminate debate was made, by 107-90-6, debate was not terminated. There was a question about the size of the budget. Mr. McCabe moved to terminate again. Terminated on voice vote. CDBG endorsed by 190-14-2

Article 19 – Revolving Funds
Question on town hall receipts and balance. Stephen Harrington had a question on ambulance and billing contract. He says it isn’t fair and the town is getting a bad deal. Chief Jefferson replied and explained the details of the deal and why it was a good one. Frank Ciano asked for a Patriot’s Day parade – planned for next year. Approved 199-4-2.

Article 20 –
Tabled to Monday, hoping all negotiation will be done.

Article 21 – Position Reclassification
One question about an acronym. Passed unanimously 199-0-3

Article 22 – Budgets

Board of Selectman
Stephen Harrington thinks that the staff in the Board of Selectmen’s office should report to the Town Manager. Sean Harrington wanted to know the price difference of having election on Tuesday instead of Saturday. He opined that they should be moved. Kevin Greeley noted that it’s 3.5 full-time employees in the department, not 4.5. He said they should be congratulated for the work they do. Ted Peluso wondered what we’re actually talking about. Paul Schlichtman noted there are costs to schools when the election is on Tuesday.

We took our break.

Town Manager
Question about the Water and Sewer line item. It was explained that this is the charge to the Water and Sewer fund for the services to the fund from the Town Manager’s office. Annie LaCourt gave an extensive speech about long-term planning, and is concerned that we’re not doing enough work to prepare for future needs as our town evolves. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine replied with some planning exercises. He believes that there is a growing gap in the service level expectations of town residents and what the town can provide. Al Tosti and John Deyst talked about the difficulties in planing. Annie spoke again about the importance of thinking not just about how much money we have, but what it is that we want. A motion to terminated debate on budgets 3 through 16 failed to get a second. I think a motion to terminate debate on just this budget might have carried, but people weren’t willing to skip over so much of the budget without discussion.

Treasurer
Gordon Jamieson – have you considered outsourcing the software needs of the department? Deputy Treasurer talked about the consulting process and needs analysis that are in process.

Legal
Stephen Harrington asked what the cost of Chris Loreti’s lawsuit against the town was. The answer is that the law firm who defended the town was paid for by our insurance policy. I think that Mr. Harrington was trying to make the argument that Loreti’s lawsuit against the town was “free” and didn’t cost the town money. However, there are many costs that aren’t covered by the insurance policy. There were dozens of hours spent on the lawsuit by town counsel, by the town manager, by other town employees, and by volunteer boards. I can’t prove it, but I firmly believe that we lost a valuable employee who chose to resign rather than deal with further attacks by Mr. Loreti. The lawsuit was dismissed in the town’s favor. And yet, we’re still paying for it today.

Parking
Mr. Langone had a question about overnight parking. He disagrees with the overnight parking policy. He further disagreed that the spots in front of the high school be allocated to the schools. He accused the Board of Selectmen of sending the police into his neighborhood, and said that he’s not coming back to Town Meeting next year. In case you were wondering – no, the Board of Selectmen did not send the police into his neighborhood. . . .

Planning and Community Development
There was a question on a title change.

Public Works
There was a complaint about road condition. DPW Director Mike Rademacher explained the process for utility digging in a recently paved road. The contractor does the work and does a temporary patch. That patch is left in place for a year while the earth underneath settles. The contractor is then required to come back and do a permanent “infrared patch” which means the pavement is heated and a melted seal is placed. A change in the parks and cemetery position was noted. We used 9455 tons of salt, which was less than the previous year. Snowplow damage happens most on roads with bad surfaces. There were several references tonight to open checkbook. It makes me so happy to know that the town made that information, and it’s being used. There were several questions about snow and ice. Question on Gray Street rebuild – not yet. Recycling position question. Terminate debate by Moore.

Facilities
Sean Harrington asked for information on the facilities department. This group centralizes our building maintenance for long-term conservation of town assets. There was a discussion about why fields and parks weren’t included, and when they might be included in a process.

Public Services
Stephen Harrington asked if there are any electronic devices such as license scanners used by the APD. Chief Ryan answered that there aren’t. There was a question about fire alarm system maintenance – it’s the radio boxes in the schools etc. on the pull boxes. Annie LaCourt asked several questions. She asked how well we’re handling electronic fraud and identity theft, and the answer is that we’re getting better at it using regional resources. She asked about the school resource officer and how they were being used. She asked how much overtime was being done, on average. She also made a spectacular joke about the police being well-rested when they visit her house – jaws dropped all over town hall.

Education
Sean Harrington had a question about special ed budget – is the rate of increase too high? Tosti: the long term average is still 7%. Bill Hayner: no one can predict special ed year to year; a single child moving in or out of the town can make the difference. There was a question about the money held aside for contract negotiations. There was another question about administration costs.

We adjourned for the night.  The burning question is: can we get it all done on Monday?

Comments

Comment from Sean Harrington
Time: May 7, 2015, 9:55 am

This is what I find interesting though, which I forgot to say, if you want to save that money in case a kid come into the district with costly needs than why put it in the general ed fund? Why not put it in a reserve fund and hold onto it? That’s where this is not okay with me, because its put in the general ed fund and the money gets spent… under the scenario we have a kid that would cost $600k for special ed (giving an extreme scenario. We don’t have that money in set aside in a reserve fund so are we now going to fire some teachers to get back the $600k?

If your not going to use the whole 7% than put the remainder aside, because the way its done now without saving it is just growth for the sake of growth. Growth for the sake of Growth is the ideology of a Cancer Cell, it should be the ideology of budgeting.

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: May 7, 2015, 12:14 pm

I thought that Annie LaCourt’s questions about planning were exceptionally significant last night, and I’m a little surprised they aren’t getting more ink (pixels?) this morning.

We are discussing budgets and acting on a financial plan while listening to the forecast that we can make it till 2021 without an override.

That we can do that pleases the heck out of me, but whether the residents want to do that is a discussion that needs to be had, and the residents need to be included in it.

Our financial planners saying something is possible doesn’t mean the electorate want it to be this way.

It may turn out that they do, but we’ve got to have that conversation, so we can act on those wishes.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 7, 2015, 1:54 pm

Anne LaCourt did not just platitudinously say that long-range planning is good.

She said that revenue and spending projections are not enough and we need to involve the town as a whole in a broad discussion of spending and services, not just spending.

Is it better to add a ninth year to the three-year plan or to add back some of the library hours or nurses at the elementary schools and public safety positions?

I think it ought to be an open question. And who should decide? The men and women who answer that question for us now (they say “yes”) are wise and thoughtful and have good reasons, but they are largely self-selected and talk mostly to themselves.

Question, trying to be constructive: What does a town-wide process of setting goals and priorities look like?

Comment from Michael Ruderman
Time: May 8, 2015, 9:06 am

It would go beyond the puerile surveys that ask “how important are these to you” and pose meaningful, discriminating choices across all budget areas.

Here’s an example: With an additional $X million in the town budget, which would cost every resident/voter/household $a/b/c every year, would you 1) buy nothing else, add it to the reserve account, hedge against greater tax increases to come [directly benefiting ?% of the present population who will be Arlington’s future population], 2) reduce a liability, like the unfunded pension benefits, directly benefiting some number of present and future retirees, 3) employ more personnel [library staff, school nurses, laborers, police] with a estimation of the direct benefits for each, 4) buy things (fire engines, swamp land, high school classrooms, photocopy machines), some of which directly benefit someone, some that don’t.

No budget choice is solitary. Every purchase competes with something else, either the lack of what you want, or the benefit of something else you would have instead.