Select Board - Nov 9th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference. Meeting materials were available from These notes cover a subset of agenda items.

Quarterly Budget Update. Deputy Town Manager Sandy Pooler presents. Arlington submitted $3M for reimbursement under the CARES act. The report tries to show spending relative the the quarter's 25% goal. Many expense categories are above 25%, which is generally due to COVID. Overall, Mr. Pooler is pleased to see things where they are.

A portion of the high school debt exclusion was included in the first two property tax bills, which are an estimate of the total tax due. The last two property tax bills are based on the actual amount. Revenue is good overall. Hotel and meal taxes are an exception. During Q1, Hotel taxes were 1/3 and meal taxes were 2/3 of normal. We reduced estimates for these income streams; they're bringing in more revenue than anticipated, but less than in normal times. We expect a bump in motor vehicle excise tax in March, and will continue to monitor income from hotel and meal taxes.

Overall revenue comes in at 61%, which is partly due to early receipt of MWRA subsidies. Some income categories are much lower than usual, like the Ed Burns Arena.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins moves acceptance.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon asks how union salaries are reflected in the report, in cases where union negotiations are ongoing.

(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that "Salary Reserve" lists the amount needed to settle union contracts. Salary reserve will be large if numerous contracts are unsettled, and the number will decrease as contracts are settled.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey has a question about the $3M from the CARES act. He'd like to know whether this was for expenses prior to September 30th, or if it includes amounts to be spent later.

(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says the $3M reflects what we've spent already, and what we anticipate to need in coming months.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey asks if CARES act funds can be used against revenue shortfalls, or if they have to be used to reimburse expenses.

(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says it can only be used to reimburse expenses.

(Joe Curro) Mr. Curro is concerned about AYCC (Arlington Youth Counseling Center), because there's high demand for their services right now. He asks if tele-health changes the reimbursement rate.

(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that tele-health changes the timing of the reimbursement, but not the amount.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd is surprised that we took in more meal taxes than expected, though he understands that expectations were reduced.

(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that there will be a meal tax shortfall at the end of the year, relative to what we usually bring in.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd asks when the bill for blue bikes will come in.

(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler isn't sure. He'll have to check.

Board votes receipt, 5--0.

Open Forum. There were four speakers for the open forum.

(John Ward) Mr. Ward has questions about pension obligations, whether Arlington has pension obligation bonds, and whether the bond amount matches the pension amount.

Mr. Hurd says that the Select Board typically doesn't answer questions during Open Forum. He advises Mr. Ward to call or email the Select Board's office. Mr. Chapdelaine says he's provided this information to Mr. Ward in the past.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton would like to address the Black Lives Matter banner. He says it's a bigger issue of racial justice. He's clear that the Board has the sole authority over banners displayed at town hall. But taking the banner down without a plan has raised hackles in the community.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to speak to Article 25 and the BLM banner. He recognizes that Article 25 is a resolution without a policy component. As a town meeting member, he'd be inclined to vote in favor, because he realizes people like the banner.

Mr. Revilak wishes we could put up a second banner. One that said "end the legacy of redlining", or "exclusionary zoning has no home here". He wants to talk about segregation and housing for a minute, because housing policy -- having the ability to dictate where people can and cannot live -- is a significant piece of how segregation in the US was accomplished.

Single-family zoning (having areas where only single-family homes are allowed) was promoted in the 1920s as a "solution" to the supreme court's decision in Warley v Buchannan. This is where the court ruled that race-based zoning was unconstitutional. The idea behind single-family zoning was simple: if you can't segregate on the basis of race, you can segregate on the basis of what kind of housing people can afford. That idea grew legs. It's a policy that Arlington adopted, and a policy we've kept in place to this very day.

Racial covenants were another tool. These were deed restrictions that prevented properties from being owned or occupied by people of color. Arlington had these in the 1920s, as farms were being broken up into residential subdivisions.

Then there's redlining -- the actuarial maps drawn by the Home Owners Loan Corporation in the 1930's, and there is not a single drop of red on Arlington's map. This isn't surprising; at the time the black population of Arlington was thirty something people out of 40,000. As a predominantly white community, we would have been considered a "good risk".

A lot of housing was build here after world war II. But with Arlington being over 99% white and the FHA's policies being what they were, it would have been very difficult for a black family to get a mortgage here.

In 1973, Arlington passed a two-year moratorium on the construction of apartments. Which is to say, we made it temporarily illegal to build lower-cost forms of housing. This was a novel idea at the time; the town was sued, but the moratorium was upheld by the courts.

The moratorium was intended to give the town time to rewrite its zoning bylaws, a process that was completed in 1975. The new zoning bylaws substantially down-zoned the town. In effect, they took the built environment that resulted from over a half-century of discriminatory housing policy, and codified it into law. Those bylaws are still on the books today.

When it comes to advocating on behalf of black lives, the BLM banner seems like the bare minimum thing we can do; but it makes people happy, so it's worth doing. Mr. Revilak is interested in seeing whether Arlington is willing to go beyond doing the bare minimum, particularly in the area of housing.

(Ben Moynihan) Mr. Moynihan refers to the previous speaker, and suggests the board might be interested in reading The Color of Law. The book talks about that sort of thing, but it's more general; what the previous speaker said was more specific to Arlington.

Mr. Moynihan says he's new to the BLM banner debate and has read the material in the Board's packet. He says that equity, diversity, and inclusion should be a win-win. He doesn't see why there has to be a choice between displaying the BLM banner or displaying others. "Black Lives Matter" is a simple declarative statement. Given the history of our country, Arlington should take this chance to affirm the statement. We've had graffiti tagging in the past, and that's opened scars in the community. The banner affirms equity and diversity -- that's important.

Final Votes and Comments. The board reviews the main motions for Articles 8 and 25. (Hearings and votes for these articles took place during an earlier meeting.)

Board votes 5--0 to approve the language of the main motion.

Date for 2021 Town Election. The board sets April 10, 2021 as the date for the spring town election. Motion passes, 5--0.

Opening town meeting warrant. The town meeting warrant will be open from 12/1/2020 through 1/29/2021. Motion passes, 5--0.

Economic Recovery Taskforce Requests. The economic recovery task force is making three recommendations to the Select Board. First, to waive 50% of alcohol licensing fees and 100% of theater licensing fees. Second, to extend free parking on-street and in municipal lots during the holiday season. Third, to add a parklet in front of the MBTA bus depot in Arlington Heights. The parklet would be funded through a shared streets grant. Depending on the weather, the parklet installation may have to wait until the spring.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon asks if clubs are open in Arlington.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine isn't sure. He'd have to check.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon asks about the configuration of the parklet proposed for Arlington Heights. She's concerned about the loss off off-street parking spaces.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey supports all three recommendations.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd is supportive, especially of the first recommendation, as a way to support businesses.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins is also supportive of efforts to help businesses. He has some questions about the parklet; he'd like to give MTBA riders some comfort while they're waiting for the bus.

Recommendations approved, 5--0.