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Town Meeting ’19 – 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.

Town Moderator John Leone called the meeting to order at 8pm on the dot.

Town Meeting Member Jane Howard led the meeting on the piano in the Star-Spangled Banner.

The Moderator announced that Relay for Life is doing a bake sale.

The Moderator announced a survey of Town Meeting Members about paper usage.

Select Board Chair Diane Mahon moved that we will return on Wednesday May 8th for another night of Town Meeting.  My personal odds making: 5/8 5%; 5/13: 60%; 5/15 34%; 5/20 1%.

Announcements

  • Bill Hayner announced that Rotary Club award dinner is June 4, honoring Clarissa Rowe and Alan Tosti.
  • Steve Revilak reported back on the Minuteman/Greenway cleanup effort.
  • Jane Howard invited everyone to Spy Pond cleanup on May 11 from 9 to 1.
  • Sarah Burks pointed out the Cyrus Dallin Museum report contained in the annual town report.

We did a test vote with the clickers: Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. True 117 False 58 Abstain 15 I went to the Van Gogh museum last year. You’d think I’d get this one right.

Reports

  • Priya Sankalia, Recycling Committee, Co-Chair, gave the report of the now-renamed Zero Waste Committee.
  • Len Kardon, School Committee Chairman gave the report of the School Committee.

Finance Committee Chair Al Tosti tabled Article 35-62 so that we can get to the Minuteman Vocational High School.

Article 63 – Minuteman Vocational High School Budget

Superintendent Ed Bouquillon got 15 minutes for his presentation. He reported on the new school building which is set to open next year. He said there was a jump in enrollment for next year too. He reviewed the changes in his proposed budget. DeAnne Dupont had a question about cleaning services. Roderick Holland is in favor of the budget. 209-0

Articles 57 and 58 were taken from the table.

Article 57 – Budgets

John Deyst rose to say that he doesn’t think we should vote the contingent yes-override and a no-override budget. He thinks we should just vote the yes-override. Al Tosti thinks the FinComm approved contingency method is better – the contingent budget is more appropriate than calling a Special Town Meeting.

School Committee Chair Len Kardon requested 10 minutes for their presentation. He thanked Town Meeting for their support for the AHS rebuild. He noted the opening of the Gibbs and the Hardy’s expansion. He reported on the school’s development of a 5-year plan. I’m so pleased to see this plan. I’ve been asking the school department to use a planning model like this for years. I think it will make for better planning and visibility into the planning. Superintendent Katherine Bodie continued the presentation, reporting on recent successes and current plans. She walked through several details of the proposed budget.

The moderator ran through the list of budgets, and some of the budgets were “held” for discussion.

Select Board – John Worden is opposed to the town joining the Mayor’s Coalition because we are a town, not a city.  This is a semantic complaint, not a substantive one. Arlington is close to Boston, and if we want to affect the urban policies that impact us, we need to join organizations like this one.  One example is the MBTA.  MBTA decisions are driven by the Boston inner-core cities.  If we decline to participate, we decline to exercise a powerful lever on that organization. Ted Paluso noted that the override is $5.5 million, but we don’t actually spend most of the money this year. It’s mostly pushed into savings to be used in future years.

Town Manager – no questions

Comptroller – Gordon Jamieson appreciated the reporting.

Treasurer/Collector – Ed Trembly had a question about notification on excise bills.

Assesors – Timur Yontar introduce another resident, Kathleen Maloon. She believes property taxes are going up too much. In her situation, her land’s value increased dramatically, and so did her taxes. She requested an abatement, but she refused to allow the assessor to inspect her home, and her abatement was denied. She doesn’t think anyone should get a double-digit increase. Assessor Mary Winstanley O’Connor explained that when requests for abatements come in, they are required by the state to get full information, including an inspection; if the inspection is not completed, the abatement must be denied. She explained that the town’s property values have escalated dramatically recently. There are some key facts that didn’t come out clearly in this discussion. The most important one: for many people in town, their taxes went down last year! Proposition 2.5 constrains total tax levy growth to 2.5%, but in when properties are revalued, the burden of that tax levy is redistributed. Property values in Arlington have moved dramatically in the last few years, and that made this year’s revaluation unusually volatile. Broadly put, East Arlington saw dramatic increases in land values, more than other parts of the town.  That moved the tax burden more heavily onto those neighborhoods. That is painful for many individual taxpayers, but I’d argue that it reflects the reality of the situation.  East Arlington’s valuations have risen faster than other parts of town. Al Tosti spoke about the tax rate. Steve Revliak asked a series of questions about how the tax rate is calculated. Dave Levy asked about how property flippers affect property values and tax increases. Roderick Holland asked if we can assess homes differently if they are owned by a long-term resident. Mary Winstanley O’Connor explained that they are required by the state constitution to assess the full-and-fair cash value of your home. Doug Heim explained that there are a few legal exceptions ot this that the town takes advantage of to protect seniors and other groups, but the town doesn’t have the freedom to ignore the state’s assessment methods.

9:33 break started
9:46 break ended

Beth Ann Friedman asked what is the underlying data on changes – the answer is property sales. Annie LaCourt talked about property tax v. wealth tax. She also noted that the first two bills of a year are estimated, and the second two are actual. It can make the second half surprising.

Town Clerk – Steve Revilak asked if the Town Clerk’s records are going to be digitized. There are no plans to do so at this time. Patty Muldoon had a question about the Board of Registrar’s budget.

Parking – Peter Fuller asked about the parking clerk. Timur Yontar asked about the recent court case about chalking cars and how it might affect our revenue.

Public Works – Ed Trembly asked how much salt we used. He was not happy with the salary increases. It was explained that the budget is actually 2 years of salary increases. Annie LaCourt gave support to wage increases.

Fire Services. Peter Fiorie asked about the safety of propane delivery trucks. Fire Chief Jefferson said it was a state regulated vehicle.

Inspections – No questions.

Education – Gordon Jamieson had a “show and tell” about the budget document. He and John Deyst supported the budget.

Health and Human Services – Betty Stone is in favor of the new diversity coordinator. Director of Health and Human Services Christine Bongiorno explained that the position will be the ADA coordinator, and will work with Disabilities Commission, Human Rights Commission, and Rainbow Commission. Mona Mandal asked about collaboration with the school parent diversity inclusion groups.

Insurance – No questions

We moved to voting.  Town Counsel Doug Heim – if we don’t have a contingent budget, and the override fails, then we have to come back later this year.  Deyst’s motion failed 29 – 175 -2. I voted in favor of Deyst’s motion.  This override is, should be, a no-drama override.  It’s smart budgeting, and we should approve it.  If the town chooses to reject it, then it becomes high drama, and we should talk about what the alternatives are.  If the override fails on June 11, I would prefer Town Meeting comes back into session and debates what to do next.  All that said – let’s go with the no-drama, well-planned override.  Vote yes on June 11!  Budget approved 207-2. Contingent Budgets approved 198-11.

Article 58 Capital Budget

Charlies Foskett asked for 18 minutes and got it. He described the process the committee follows and the projects that are proposed. Mustafa Varoglu moved an amendment to not work on the Lake Street intersection on the bike path, but to spend the money on drainage instead. I’m opposed to this amendment.  I think the driver of the amendment are a few bicycle advocates whom I generally agree with, but not in this case.  After years of study, the bottom line is that is the Lake Street intersection with the bike path is overloaded and needs restructuring.  The current configuration unnecessarily blocks car traffic.  The proposal in the capital budget is the result of the many studies, and should move forward.  Some Patricia Worden is concerned about flooding from Mill Brook and is opposed to the DPW project.

We adjourned for the night.

Comments

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 7, 2019, 8:42 am

It looks like O’Connor was spinning things. MGL 59 Section 61A says that the property is only required to be shown *upon request* of the assessors.

So no, state law does *not* appear to require an in-home inspection for an abatement to be granted. That requirement only kicks in if the assessors demand an in-home assessment. So it’s the assessors’ choice — their hands are not tied by state law as (according to your summary) O’Connor made it out to be.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 7, 2019, 9:05 am

This sort of thing really ticks me off. I’m actually fine with a BoA policy to require on-site inspections as a condition of abatement. But tell the truth and own the policy rather than trying to fob it off on the state. Especially with the upcoming votes they need to be transparent over at town hall.

Comment from Flynn Monks
Time: May 7, 2019, 9:42 am

I also voted in favor of Mr. Deyst’s motion. I imagine this came out of the discussion and vote taken in FinCom on the override in its April 17 meeting. The transparency is there, the commitments from the town are there, the budget pressures are long known and stewarded, the add-ons proposed for meeting some of the costs from exploded enrollment have been known for months and have been exposed to multiple channels of oversight. I thought this was a fine motion, signaling our understanding and support of the process that got us here.

Comment from Joe Tully
Time: May 7, 2019, 9:54 am

My guess is that the knock on the door *is* the request to do the in home inspection. I was really rubbed the wrong way by the resident speaker that led off this discussion. First, her comments were way beyond the scope of the article. Second, she was treating town meeting as a bitch session to air her personal grievance with the assessors. I’m surprised the moderator didn’t point this out to her when she started down this path. I wanted to object to her comments being outside the scope of the article, but I didn’t want to be one of those hecklers that shouts “scope!” from the peanut gallery, and I also wanted to be mindful of the fact that most residents don’t understand TM technicalities and it’s probably a big deal to her to be there, so I let her have her time. But at the end of the day I didn’t find her case compelling and I have very little sympathy for her. She knew what she was doing when she refused the in home inspection and now she doesn’t want to accept the consequences of her decision.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: May 7, 2019, 11:09 am

Generally, the thought of an 18 minute presentation is something I dread, especially at 10:30 p.m. Charlie Foskett made one the best presentations I have seen in Town Meeting; clear, thoughtful, compelling.

Mr. Varoglu is not the only person to have an amendment lurking to kill off something they don’t like. There’s a motion in the weeds looking to eliminate funding for Whittemore Park.

Mr. Varoglu’s presentation was, essentially, take the money away from the Lake Street signal, spend some of it on a puddle, then figure out what to do with the leftover money next year. A compelling argument for or against the merits of the Lake Street signal would have been much more compelling.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 7, 2019, 12:17 pm

I agree with Paul Schlichtman’s tautological concluding sentence.

I also think that Mustafa’s spending proposal is too open ended, though perhaps the Town could evaluate the problem this year and see what it would take to fix.

Speaking of taxes, could the Assessor’s Department personnel possibly be less helpful? A gentle correction (“I think perhaps Mr. Fischer means ‘taxes,” not ‘assessments'”) would have shed light and generated a lot less heat.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: May 7, 2019, 1:01 pm

Ms. Meloon’s assessment, on a single family home, went up from $604,500 to $742,500. (+22.8%)
The town’s total assessment went up by 13.9%, so Ms. Meloon’s property is either appreciating at a rate greater than the rest of the town, or her previous assessment was undervalued.
While the overall levy increased 5.8%, Ms. Meloon’s taxes increased from $7332.59 to $8360.55, a $1027.97 (14%) increase.

Would I pay $1028 in increased taxes in exchange for my personal wealth increasing by $138,000. Gladly.

Comment from Mustafa Varoglu
Time: May 7, 2019, 4:49 pm

I’m the person who put it the Article 58 amendment. I did it alone without consulting with ” a few bicycle advocates” even though I am bike commuter myself. I did it because the path floods and at times freezes to the point people fall on the ice. It also forces people to walk through standing water or mud in work clothes and shoes. The users of the path in this section are a very mixed group, not just bike commuters, the majority are pedestrians, including families walking to Hardy, as well as students biking to AHS, Gibbs or Ottoson.
It seems backwards to say the volume of users is so high that we have to fix the path crossing at Lake St. for car traffic, while leaving behind conditions on the actual path that are bad for such high number of Arlington residents.
We would never tolerate a structural defect like this on the streets we drive on regularly. A couple of years ago there was one morning when we had a flash freeze resulting in cars sliding out on Jason Street near Rt 2, the town manager and head of DPW gave a public apology for not salting ahead of the freeze. Yet the path will have multiple sheets of ice for a couple of days in row that can be permanently addressed by better drainage.
I don’t think a fix should be delayed any further. If there is another way we can do it this construction season without passing this amendment that’s great – but I see the amendment as a binding way to get this done.

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: May 7, 2019, 5:11 pm

I appreciate Mustafa’s explaining his motivation and reasoning here. But can Town Meeting really compel the town to undertake any project by passing an appropriation?

Comment from Mustafa Varoglu
Time: May 7, 2019, 5:18 pm

To respond to Eric, I don’t know the answer to your question about compelling something through appropriation. However, one of the reasons I have heard for this not fixing the path drainage is that the funds are always tight. Hopefully this will make the funds available.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 7, 2019, 6:10 pm

Eric — I don’t think it can. The proposed amendment would make the funds available, but the town could just not do the project. The question would be if the appropriate funds would revert to the general fund on their own or if they stay appropriated and pending and future town meeting action would be needed to reassign them. I *think* it’s the latter.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 7, 2019, 6:14 pm

Re: O’Connor’s statement, it’s worse than I thought. Reading MGL Ch 59 Sec 61A more closely it says that an inspection can be required at the option of the assessors and that the penalty for not complying is being unable to challenge the BOA’s decision in court. It does NOT say that the abatement request has to be denied.

So contra what O’Connor said (at least in Dan’s summary) this is all on the BOA. Requiring an inspection or not is their decision. Denying the abatement if the person doesn’t allow the inspection is their decision. Not mandated by state law.

Now, as stated above, I think requiring an inspection and blanket denying an abatement if no inspection is allowed is a reasonable policy. However, town officials should tell the truth instead of (apparently falsely) trying to wash their hands of a possibly unpopular policy and blaming the state for it.

You people are asking the populace for a huge tax increase. Now is not the time for spinning and falsehoods. Be as transparent as hell.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: May 8, 2019, 1:55 pm

Town spending requires Town Meeting authorization, but Town Meeting can’t compel spending. Should Mustafa Varoglu’s amendment pass, the Town could not spend money on the Lake Street/bike path intersection project, but it would not be compelled to spend anything on the drainage issue it seeks to fix. The amendment is really just a dramatic way to call attention to the drainage issue.

Pingback from Dan Dunn » Town Meeting ’19 – Session 6
Time: May 9, 2019, 1:36 am

[…] a few bicycle advocates to kill the Lake Street light project. I absolutely accept him at his word (see comments at bottom) that he made his proposal independently.  And I agree that the drainage he wants fixed is a […]

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