Select Board - Mar 9th, 2020

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My notes cover a few of the board's agenda items, but not the entire agenda.

Article 25/Financial Estimates and Budget Documents. This article would provide the town manager with additional time to submit budget materials for town meeting.

Finance Committee chair Al Tosti states that the finance committee unanimously voted in favor of no action on this article, and asks the select board to do the same. The fincom recommended no action for three reasons. First, the finance committee has to review 40--50 different budgets each year. It's a long process and it takes time. Second, during the fall, the fincom meets with the long range planning committee to get a sense of what kind of funding may be coming from the state. You generally have an idea during the fall, but you won't know for sure. Third, the long range planning committee and other groups that work on the budget know what many of the departments will need. The override stabilization fund is the last things that comes in, and the amount devoted to that fund depends on funding from the state. We usually don't get that figure until right before town meeting. February is just too late in the process to get budgets.

Steve DeCourcey says he requested this article be added to the warrant, in an effort to help the town manager. He'd like to sit down and talk with Mr. Tosti and the Town manager, and asks the board to table discussion until then.

The board tables further discussion of Article 25.

MWRA Debt Shift. The question is how much of the debt roll-off so shift in this year, and in subsequent years. The DPW provided a memo that breaks down the cost change under different scenarios. For a typical household, the annual rate would increase by $750--877/year. A portion of this increase will come off residential property taxes, as we rebalance how MWRA debt is recorded on the books. We don't have a final proposal tonight; that will be coming in a few weeks.

Diane Mahon points out that this came from the 2017 town election. We were trying to minimize the tax increases from the new school and other capital improvements. In particular, we were trying to prevent all of those increases from hitting at once.

Joe Curro notes that residents have some control over what they pay in water and sewer bills, based on how much water they use. But they don't have control over what they're assessed in property taxes. Seniors tend to use less water and sewer, and lower usage is associated with lower rates. This should benefit them.

Dan Dunn is glad we were finally able to get this done.

Article 13/Fossil Fuel Infrastructure. Steve DeCourcey recuses himself from the warrant article hearing, since he's done work for National Grid.

The town's clean energy future committee (CEFC) started talking about this article once Brookline passed theirs. The town's goal of net-zero by 2050 was a motivating factor.

(Ken Pruitt) Arlington has a long history with sustainability. In 2010, we received a green community designation and adopted the stretch building codes. We ran a solarization campaign in 2012, and installed photovoltaic panels on six school buildings. In 2018, we committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. In 2019, we formed the CEFC and participated in the most successful Heatsmart program in the state. 132 residents installed heat pumps through that program. This warrant article is modeled after Brookline's bylaw, but with some small changes. The Department of Planning and Community Development is working with several groups on drafting, and soliciting community feedback.

(Amos Meeks) The planet has warmed by two degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. This is contributing to more extreme storms and flooding; it will only get worse.

The global warming solutions act was passed in 2008. I mandated an 80% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2050. In order to meet this goal, we'll need to reduce emissions from heating. In Arlington, 60% of our total CO2 emissions come from buildings. Transportation is the next largest emissions source. We're deep in the hole with our fossil fuel infrastructure. This article is a first step -- to prevent us from digging the hole any deeper.

Article 13 will affect new constructions and gut renovations. We estimate it will apply to about 70 buildings per year, or about 0.5% of the buildings in Arlington (per year). There are exemptions for gas cooking appliances, hot water heat for large buildings, research and medical facilities. There's also a waiver process to handle unforeseen issues.

There are two types of heat pumps: ground source and air source. Unlike electric resistance heating, these are very efficient. They're also effective down to -13 degrees F. 10% of all new homes in Massachusetts have heat pumps as their only source of heat.

Affordable housing is leading the way with heat pump adoption. The Housing Corporation of Arlington plans to use heat pumps in their new buildings.

(Joe Curro) Mr. Curro commends the groups who've brought this article forward. He felt that last week's info session was one of the best he's ever seen; it answered a lot of questions. This seems like a natural progression and the environmental benefits are particularly important. He's enthusiastic about the article. Sometimes the market needs a nudge in order to change direction.

Mr. Curro asks about oil heating. Mr. Meeks says oil heat requires piping from the oil tank to the furnace. The proposed bylaw would prohibit that piping.

Mr. Curro asks about the threshold whereby the article would take effect. Mr. Meeks says it would apply to new construction and Level 3 renovations, as defined by the building code. On the residential side, we want to make sure we don't unnecessarily subject additions to this bylaw.

There's a question about the appeals process. Pat Hanlon answers. He says the building board of appeals is a logical avenue. The town manager's office is another logical avenue.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd was wary of this article at first, because he wasn't aware of the alternatives to natural gas heat. His family recently built an addition to their home. The addition is heated by an air source heat pump, and it's amazing. It's very comfortable. He believes the options are cost effective and work well.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon notes that photovoltaic panels are one way to mitigate the cost of heat pumps. She asks if there are other forms of mitigation. Mr. Meeks says that community solar is potentially an option, but he's not sure where this stands in terms of state law. Ms. Mahon says were looking at sustainable building practices as a way to reduce emissions and meet our net zero goals.

(Dan Dunn) Mr. Dunn says this is not a change to the building code, or zoning bylaws. It's simply regulating piping within a building. Town Counsel Doug Heim is in 90% agreement; he says we're regulating a specific area that's not covered by state laws. Mr. Dunn believes the impact is small. We'll have to convert 450 buildings per year to meet our 2050 goals. 70 buildings/year isn't enough, but it's a good start.

The board moves favorable action 4-0-1.