Town Meeting ’15 – Session 5
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.
Town Meeting Member Jane Howard played the Star-Spangled Banner on the piano and the meeting sang along.
The Moderator John Leone posted a test question using voting clickers: Will we finish tonight? 72-53-16. I was one of the 72. I was too optimistic! We got there, but it was a long slog.
- Kevin Koch – May 16 Ice Cream Scooper Bowl fundraiser for cancer research. noon-4 in front of Cyrus Dallin Museum in the center.
- Roly Chaput – Hidden Treasure program – Old Schwamb Mill this weekend, noon-3pm both days.
Article 3 – Reports
Laurie McKinney gave the report of the Uncle Sam Committee. It was more of a diatribe than a report. Mercifully, it was limited to four minutes by rule.
Article 3 placed on the table.
Article 22 – Budgets, continued
Gordon Jamieson thinks that it is inappropriate that the long-term planning committee, which isn’t even created by our bylaws, is setting the rate of increase of the school budget. There is confusion about the role of the long term planning committee. The long term planning committee doesn’t set any budgets, and doesn’t set any policy. It’s a group of town officials that discusses ideas and concerns with the Town Manager. In the end, only the Town Manager proposes a budget – the committee can’t (and doesn’t) dictate what that budget should be. Finance Committee reviews that budget, adjusts the budget as it sees fit, and sends it to Town Meeting. Town Meeting adjusts the budget as it sees fit and the vote of Town Meeting is the final decision. I know there are many people who think that the the annual increase in the school budget should be maintained at 3.5%, or even increased, while the Town Manager thinks it should go to 3.25% next year and 3.0% in subsequent years. I’d suggest that the path for those people is to lobby the town manager, the finance committee, and other town meeting members. Those are the people who can actually change the budget. Of course, it makes sense to lobby the members of the long-term planning committee, too, because they give advice to the Town Manager. But it’s a mistake to think that the power of the budget lies with the long-term planning committee. The power of the budget lies where it always has – with the town manager, the finance committee, and ultimately, town meeting. There were questions about what purchases aren’t being made because of budget restrictions, including slowing the pace of curriculum improvements. John Leonard had a detailed question about using insurance money to cover a deficit. After a very confusing discussion, it was explained that the FY15 budget was supplemented with $25,000 voted by Special Town Meeting for repairs. This was seven minutes that Town Meeting will never get back. It was just a long, meandering, vaguely confrontational exploration of confusion. Jennifer Susse talked about two big financial stressors on the school budget. 1) state/federal stresses. The state keeps cutting money in little ways. Unfunded mandates keep being added – teacher training and evaluation, common core, and others. 2) student growth is second stressor. 450 student surge in the last 3 years. She explained that as enrollment increases, 25% of the per-pupil enrollment growth is covered by budget increases. She believes there is more analysis necessary to see if 25% is the right number. She said that cutting the rate of growth on the school budget is another stress on the budget. She is thankful and respectful of the financial team in the town who are looking to carefully control expenses. She made the argument that every time we have asked the voters in recent history, they have agreed to pay more and keep and/or expand services. She wants to make sure that is acted upon. Stephen Harrington thinks the school budget is going up too much. He proposed an amendment to reduce the budget by about $1 million. He estimated the school salary increases at 5%, and compared it to the municipal budgets (aka town budgets) which are increasing 2.5%. It’s an interesting comparison, but what he didn’t consider in his calculation is the increase in the number of students. The CFO further explained that some of the budget increase is “lanes and grades” as opposed. Len Kardon put up a slide that showed how our per-pupil expenditures are falling further behind the state average. He said that he looks forward to a robust debate next year on the school budget. Paul Schlichtman went into detail about the 3.7% increase in enrollment, the state funding process, and their impacts on the budget. Annie LaCourt quizzed the Superintendent about the school department’s 5-year plan. Linda Hanson thought the debate was doing well at looking at the big picture. She encouraged further, wider conversation about budgeting and compensation. McCabe terminated debate, vote was 175-37.
Jennifer Susse talked about future renovations of Fox Library by private funds.
Health and Human Services
Zarina Memon had a series of detailed questions on the budget for this department.
Gordon Jamieson reviewed the history of the performance of the retirement system’s investment. He said we should keep track of it carefully.
We had a break.
Stephen Harrington said that we shouldn’t make investments based on fear. Both previous speakers were waxing philosophical, but I don’t think their comments actually were on the budget. It was here that I gave up hope that we were going to get Town Meeting done tonight. We must be funded for our pension by 2040. Our goal to be budgeted by 2032. Our OPEB liability is much larger.
There was no special ed reserve fund article placed on the warrant. FinComm and School department made an agreement for the schools to have $200,000 come back to the general fund at the end of the year, and $200,000 go into the reserve fund. It’s a wash for the town.
Water and Sewer
There was confusion about indirect costs and how they work.
Recreation – pass
Ed Burns Arena – pass
Harrington’s amendment lost 24-164-6.
Final budget approved 192-4-1.
Article 20 – Collective Bargaining was taken off the table.
At Tosti moved a substitute motion with updated numbers based on successful collective bargaining results. John Maher congratulated the town manager and unions on reaching an equitable conclusion so quickly. 194-3-1. Passed.
Article 23 – Revaluation
Director of Assessments Paul Tierney said that this is for the three-year cycle of revaluation.
Article 29 – Committees and Commissions.
Article 30 – Town Celebrations.
Article 31 – Miscellaneous
Article 32 – Public Art East Arlington
Town Manager. This is to fund the planning, but not installation of the art. Sean Harrington noted that two years ago the Public Art Fund was created without appropriation and with no intent to fund. There were speakers in favor, describing the amount as modest. Paul Schlichtman moved to terminate debate, and it was by voice vote. 130-62-3 it was approved.
Article 33 – Human Rights Commission
Al Tosti explained that $4500 for staff work for this committee is sufficient. He explained the recommendation of FinComm to have the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager look at the need for his positions. Stephen Harrington thinks that the study should be done by a committee of 5 people. There was a question about elevated suspension rates for minority student groups. The moderator told the speakers to stay on the scope, the question of whether or not to create a committee of one type or another. There were speakers in favor and opposed of further review of the committee’s work. Deshler moved to terminate debate, done on voice vote. Harrington’s amendment failed 42-151-2. Tosti’s language amendment approved by voice vote. 161-24-7 main motion passed.
Article 34 – Water bodies
Article 35 – Harry Barber
Stuart Cleinman is concerned that the program doesn’t have enough publicity.
Article 36 – Scenic Byway
John Leonard thinks we should repair the signs for Paul Revere’s ride. Budget passed by voice vote.
Article 37 – Pension Fund Adjustment
Article 38 – Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB)
Article 39 – Survivor Benefits
Article 40 – Long Term Stabilization
Article 41 – Overlay Reserve
Article 42 – Transfer Cemetery Funds
Passed by voice vote.
Article 43 – Use of Unencumbered Funds (free cash)
Article 44 – Fiscal Stability
Article 45 – Town Meeting Member Removal Process
Selectman Diane Mahon spoke for the majority of the board, a 3-2 vote. The board wants to have the discussion on Town Meeting floor. Jim O’Conor asked for a sense of the meeting. There were speakers opposed to the idea of removal. Swilling terminates debate on voice vote. 107-79-5 the committee was created to study the issue.
11:02pm. Motion to adjourn failed on voice vote. Despite certain long-winded town meeting member’s attempts to send us to a sixth session, the body was intent on completing the business of the town tonight.
Article 46 – Master Plan
ARB Chairman Andrew Bunnell gave a detailed explanation of how the Master Plan was written, what it’s impact is, and what the vote of Town Meeting means. Brian Rehrig explained the importance of the Mugar parcel for wetlands and noted how the Master Plan renews and repeats the town’s public policy of preserving the site. He proposed a resolution to endorse that. Stephen Harrington proposed a further amendment that the resolution call for the use of CPA funds to preserve the space. League of Women Voters in favor of the Rehrig resolution. Michael Ruderman was opposed to the resolution. He thinks that the wetlands might be improved by development. He thinks the Master Plan will have too much negative budget impact. A second motion to adjourn failed. I was part of the vote to keep us going. I think we had a decent conversation about the Master Plan and the Mugar property. We could have had the same conversation on Wednesday. I preferred to do it tonight, however, because I think it kept a lid on some of the repetitive comments. People were more judicious in choosing whether or not to speak. It was noted that Mr. Harrington’s amendment would not be a binding vote. John Worden was in favor of both amendments. He wants zoning to protect us from McMansions. He said it was the latest we had run town meeting since before he was town moderator. Bill Kaplan noted that there are good and bad things in the Master Plan, and that no one will be in favor of all it. Karl Wagner moved to terminate debate. 128-43-7, Rehrig’s amendment was approved. 62-114-3, Harrington’s amendment failed. 136-41-3 the Master Plan was adopted.
Town Meeting was dissolved by vote.
I’m tempted to add a new feature to my notes next year. I should keep score on how many times each town meeting member stands to speak. If I’m really ambitious, I’ll time them. I love town meeting, and I love a good debate. But I believe there are some repeat offenders who quickly pass the point of diminishing returns and speak far too many words for too little contribution to the debate.