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Town Meeting ’17 – 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.  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.

Selectman Kevin Greeley played the National Anthem on the piano and the meeting sang along.

Moderator John Leone said that we might finish tonight. I was doubtful, but he was right. We finished tonight! He did a test question on the clicker about Ghandi, the vote was 80-98-11.

Chairman of the Board of Selctmen Joe Curro moved that we’d come back on May 10 if we didn’t finish tonight.

Announcements

  • Bill Hayner announced May 23rd Mock Town Meeting with elementary students.
  • Susan Stamps – Arlington did get a tree grant. Tree committee is looking for volunteers to help with tree inventory.
  • DeAnne Dupont – announced recycling day on Saturday.

Reports

  • Juli Brazile gave the report of the Vision2020 committee.
  • Anne LeRoyer gave the report of the Open Space committee.

At 8:21 we got to the articles.

Article 33 Budgets, continued

Education, continued

Len Kardon. He thinks that we’re not spending enough on education. He noted that our spending as a fraction of state budget is flat over the last several years. He noted the average elementary school sizes are going up. He suggested that one path is to have an early override so that the tax increase can be smaller. I understand and respect Len’s argument about school budgets, but I don’t agree with him. We have a tension between the demands for higher school spending and our fiscal constraints. I think we’re picking the right compromise. On his second point, I have given a lot of thought and discussion about when we should do our next override, and how big it should be. I’ve been generally supportive of doing an earlier, smaller tax override, but the devil is in the details. The timing has been hard because of school building votes. My current thought is that we should do our operating override at the same time as the high school building vote. Karl Wagner moved to terminate budget on education. Termination approved on voice vote, but 5 people stood, so we did a counted vote on the clicker. 122-71-4, terminate failed. Joe Tully was upset that “a member of the school committee” had admonished the meeting to not ask questions. Paul Schlichtman tried to rise on a point of personal privilege but the moderator ruled him out of order. I think Tully was reading too much into Schlichtman’s comments on Wednesday; I think Schlichtman was encouraging more questions, not fewer. Brendan O’Day reviewed the history of the multi-year budget projections, and that each year we’re wrong to the upside, and the date that we think we’ll need an override keeps pushing out. He said that our fiscal situation is better than our predictions say, and the predictions are generally wrong. I think O’Day is making an interesting point, but I don’t look at it the same way that he does. Predictions are the best estimates we have, but they have significant error margins. In budgeting, you have to think about what direction you want to be wrong. If your budgeting isn’t biased one way or the other, you’d expect your budget to be too high 50% of the time and too low 50% of the time. If half of the years our budgets were overdrawn, it would be a rolling, multi-year catastrophe. We would regularly have to call a special town meeting to adjust the budget, and if we don’t have reserves to draw on, we would have to make unplanned mid-year cuts in education and DPW and public safety. To avoid that, we deliberately bias our predictions to be conservative. We want our mistakes to be “to the good” because the downside would be so bad. The point that Al Tosti makes is that if we enter a recession, our budgets will start to miss “to the bad” and our conservative budgeting will ensure that is only painful, but not catastrophic. Paul Schlichtman: I wasn’t admonishing, I was encouraging participation. Ed Starr – terminate on voice vote.

Libraries

Jennifer Susse – Fox Library conversations ongoing about hours. Ted Paluso asked how we can change the budgets – they are finely constructed. John Worden noted that we can debate and change budgets if we want.

Insurance

No discussion

Water and Sewer

Gordon Jamieson noted that the tax rate and other items are discussed at the Long-Range Planning Committee. He noted there is a lot of public information about the budget. The Moderator suggested that he stick with the water and sewer budget. Jamieson had a question about the revenue estimate.

Recreation

No one spoke.

Arlington Youth Counseling Center.

Gordon Jamieson is in favor of this budget. He noted the effect on pensions.

The budgets were approved 211-0-1

Article 27-32 were taken from the table.

Article 27 – Special Education Reserve Fund

Selectman Joe Curro explained that this vote is part of the Municipal Moderation Act. We use a reserve fund today, but the act changes how the fund is created, funded, and operated. School Committee Member Kirsi Allison-Ampe noted that taking money out of it is different than it used to be. The School Committee supports it. Approved 208-0-1

Article 29 – Endorsement of CDBG

Steve Revilak had a question on planning expenses. For Housing Production Plan and others. 205-1-3

Article 30 and 31- Revolving Fund Bylaw, Revolving Fund

Chairman Joe Curro made two administrative changes to the votes. This article is also a part of the Municipal Modernization Act and codifies all of the the revolving accounts in one place. Article 31 is the regular votes for the funds. Gordon Jamieson – why are we putting this in a bylaw? Because the new law requires us to. Zarina Memon had a question about private ways fund. Bethann Friedman had a question about the Gibbs Energy fund. It’s included in this year, but not for next year, because then it will be a school expense. Mark McCabe moved to terminate 30 and 31. Article 30 approved 204-4-1. Article 31 approved 196-1.

Article 32 Positions Reclassification

The Moderator noted that 2a and 3a were removed in a previous announcement. John Leonard moved an amendment to rename the the Board of Selectmen to the Board of Administration. The Moderator ruled the motion out of scope – we would have to make a change to the bylaws and Town Manager Act. The amendment was passed on voice vote. 208-1 approved.

Article 38 – Zoning Bylaw Recodification

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said that the working group is already in progress. They’re not making policy changes. They’re making the bylaw more readable, and making it consistent with state law and case law. This is for retaining a consultant and paying for advertising of the pending changes. Deborah Sorotkin Butler had a question about the advertising budget. Greg Christiana – when did we do this last? 1975. Cost of not doing this? Town Manager explains that we want a bylaw that is accessible to the public. BethAnn Friedman asked if the Arlington Redeveloment Board will be holding a hearing. She thinks that sometimes the ARB hearings aren’t sufficiently open. The answer is that they will. Peter Fuller wants to know if the appropriation is large enough – this isn’t something to cheap out on. The answer is, by current research and scope of work, yes it is. Approved 206-7-1.

Article 39 – Parking Operating Costs

Peter Fuller wants to know how did we arrive at these numbers. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine says it’s 50% of the personnel costs. The parking meter operation costs include credit card fees, software fees, coin collection, leasing parking from First Parish, maintenance, and lease payments on the meters themselves. 203-5-3

break 7 minutes

Article 40 no action

Article 41 Real Property $300,000

155-2-4. This vote count was low as many people were slow coming back from the break.

Article 45 Committees and Commissions $52,000

Annie LaCourt asked about the appropriation for public art. FinComm Chair Al Tosti explained the history of paying for arts in the last couple of years. He explained they consolidated it to Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture. That was a unanimous vote. 10-8 vote on $25k – some people thought it was too much. Ian Goodsell is opposed to spending so much on arts compared to the other budgets. Barbara Costa announced the work on the arts being done in town. Budget approved 198-5-1

Article 48 Water Bodies $55,000

Ed Trembly wants to know if we study the salt in water. David White says that most of the money is for invasive plants, there is some water testing. John Worden asked about the pump in Menotomy Park. Approved 196-0-1

Article 49 Community Preservation Act $2,200,000

Clarissa Rowe asked for 10 minutes and got it. Eric Helmuth reviewed the CPA funding sources. Rowe explained the projects. Ed Trembly asked how much is spent on planning, and how much is being spent on doing. $2m in construction and $401k in studies. Allan Reedy asked if we were spending too much on the reflecting pool. Rowe: We’re trying to fix this for good, not a bandaid. Greg Christiana asked if affects high school rebuilds. Rowe: looking for creative ways to fund the high school, but it’s the beginning of the process. Gordon Jamieson did we appropriate money for the fountain already? No we didn’t. Peter Fuller had a few questions. Carl Wagner moved, and debate was terminated on voice vote. The expenditures were approved 198-5.

Article 51 Pension Adjustment $0
approved on voice vote

Article 52 Other Post Employment Benefits $500,000
200-0

What is OPEB? Health care costs for retirees. This is to defray part of the costs. The liability is far larger than this appropriation.

Article 53 no action

Article 56 Free Cash 4.8m

What is Free Cash? I prefer to call it “unencumbered funds.” It is the money that has been returned to the town by budgets. It is our policy to use half of it every year. 185-1

Article 58 Stabiliztion Fund $211,000

No discussion. Approved 188-0

Article 59 Sanctuary Town/Trust Town

The Moderator noted that it was a resolution, not a binding vote. He is limiting discussion to 10 minutes for each side, and then discussion. Joe Curro spoke in favor of the article. Joe Monju spoke against it. Monju listed many, many criminal acts. He listed communicable diseases. He didn’t make any logical connection between those and the sanctuary town resolution. It was a ham-fisted attempt to scare town meeting members, devoid of any logic or reason. Approved 173-19-10.

Town Meeting was dissovled.

Comments

Comment from Carl Wagner
Time: May 9, 2017, 2:02 pm

Hi Dan: Thanks for taking and posting your notes and thoughtful comments. I always send a wrap up email of what we do in TM to people living in my neighborhood and I appreciate the resource that your notes provide to me and them.

Carl

Comment from Brendan O’Day
Time: May 9, 2017, 4:23 pm

Hi Dan: I appreciate the conservative budgeting and the cash horde it has produced for our town. As it kept building, I was a little afraid we’d created a structural surplus either by consistently overtaxing folks or consistently underspending on our teachers or parks or police. I am grateful we are $23 million ahead of where we thought we’d be at this time, and that 2017 tax revenue was $10.1 million more than it was predicted to be when forecast in 2012. I hope the trend continues and our drawdown is slow.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 9, 2017, 11:12 pm

Carl – Thank you for your kind words.

Brendan – Very well said. Thanks for keeping the changes in the budget top-of-mind.

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