Town Meeting - Apr 23rd, 2018

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Tonight marks the beginning of Arlington's 211th annual town meeting, the first being held in 1807. It's our 87th year as with a representative town meeting.

Article 2: State of the Town Address. Dan Dunn gives the opening address. Two publications have named Arlington in the top 2% of US school districts. We've made a lot of capital improvements to our schools. We have grants to look at the revitalization of Arlington Heights and to perform a climate resilience study.

Real estate costs and development are increasing. There are 12--20 tear-downs in Arlington each year. There will be a special town meeting article to refer teardown study to the residential study group.

Mr. Dunn notes that the town's last operating override was in 2011. It was supposed to keep the budget balanced for three years, but has lasted much longer. The 20% increase in school enrollment had a big impact on the operating budget, and we'll have to ask for another override in the not-too-distant future.

Article 3: Reports of Committees. The Board of Selectmen, Capital Planning Committee, Finance Committee, Vision 2020 standing committee, and Community Preservation Committee submit reports.

Juli Brazile talks about Vision 2020's change to their annual survey. In 2017, the survey changed from paper to web-based. Approximately 2000 people responded, which is significantly lower than the paper survey's response rate.

Al Tosti introduces the finance committee. This is the first year of our operating deficit, where we're taking money out of the override stabilization fund. This year, the town received an extra $150,703 from the state ways and means committee; the extra money will be given to the school department. Mr. Tosti calls attention to the 5-year plan in Appendix D of the Financial Committee's report Arlington will have a $13.9M operating deficit in FY22.

Dan Dunn introduces the board of selectmen.

Adam Chapdelaine introduces department heads.

Article three is laid upon the table.

Article 4: Appointment of Measurer of Wood and Bark. Elsie Fiore is nominated as the town's measurer of wood and bark.

Consent Agenda. There are holds placed on articles 15, 17, 26, 35, 42, and 45. The remaining articles pass by a vote of 197--1.

Article 5: Election of Assistant Town Moderator. James O'Connor is nominated to the position of assistant town moderator.

Article 6: Capital Planning Committee. Article six would add up to two seats to the capital planning committee.

Passes 212--2.

Article 7: Town Meeting Warrant Delivery. Article seven directs the Vision 2020 Governance Committee to examine how the town warrant is distributed to residents, and to recommend changes (if appropriate).

Passes, 187--3.

Article 8: Addition of Certain Delinquent Municipal Fines & Fees to be a Lien on Real Estate Tax Account.

Article eight adds three categories of fees that can become property liens. They involve remediation costs for health issues.

Question: How much uncollected money does the town have in these categories?

Zero dollars this year, but $3,300 in prior years.

Passes 204--10.

Article 9: Financial Information. Property tax bills include a few summary charts of town finances. Article nine would remove those charts. The information is available from the town's website, and it costs the town about $1,000/year to print the charts.

Passes 207--7.

Article 10: Animal Control Regulations. Article ten would amend the town bylaws, to reduce the amount of time a dog could be tethered outside, or left in a car unattended.

There are a series of administrative changes, to fix typos.

How often does this issue come up in town?

Chief Ryan says that tethering complaints aren't common, but complaints about animals locked in cars are.

There's concern about a lack of clarity in the language.

There's a question about how this change brings us into compliance with state law, and whether there's duplication with state law.

Yes, there's duplication, but this gives the town more options for enforcement.

Someone notes that the article was put forward by the town's animal control officer. They wished the animal control officer could be here to speak to it.

There's concern that the article provides a way for one neighbor to cause grief to another neighbor.

One speaker understands the concern for animals, and wishes the town could do something about poop control.

Someone asks Chief Ryan what he thinks of the proposed bylaw. The chief says his officers would apply a reasonable person standard (i.e., whether it would appear to a reasonable person that the animal was being mistreated). The bylaw can't contemplate every situation, and a police officer would have to use their judgment about the well-being of the animal.

There are more administrative changes to fix typos.

Chief Ryan says that officers would try to get voluntary compliance first, and resort to fines only if attempts at voluntary compliance were unsuccessful.

Vote to adopt corrections passes, 204--13.

Article passes 201--17.

Article 11: Vacant Storefront Registry. Article 11 would require property owners to register vacant storefronts after 90 days, rather than 21 days.

What's the fee for registration?

The fee is $400/year.

Why is the time being extended from 21 days to 90?

After working with property owners, we realized that 21 days is an unreasonably short time to fill a commercial vacancy. The goal of the registry is to discourage long-term vacancies, not to penalize short term vacancies that occur during the course of business.

What's the process for exemption?

A property owner could submit a waiver request, and the town would consider their request to be exempt from the registration requirement. There were 31 registrations this year, and three exemptions. The town granted two exemptions for display of public art, and one for financial hardship.

There's a request to make exemption decisions public.

The town manager and director of planning and community development push back a little. They're okay with publishing a report that lists the aggregate number of exemptions. They're less comfortable with publishing details of waiver requests arising from financial hardship, or personal health issues.

Would the town ever consider increasing the registration fee?

Maybe at some point in the future, but not now.

Passes, 212--5.

Article 12: Betterment Bylaw Revision. Article twelve involves repairs to private ways. Currently, 2/3's of the abutters of a private way can petition the town for repair. The town fronts the money, and is repaid from an assessment on the abutter's property taxes. The town effectively lends residents the money needed to repair their private way. The current bylaw covers major repairs. The proposed changes add provisions for minor and emergency repairs.

In the event that the town decides to make an emergency repair (e.g., to make the private way passable for emergency vehicles), who pays -- the town or the abutters?

The town would pay.

How often does this issue come up?

A couple of times per year.

Is is possible to change the apportionment of cost? Right now, all abutters are assessed equally, but could they be assessed different amounts according to the extent of the repairs? For example, if there was a lot of wear on one end of the private way but little on the other?

We could look at the equability of fees in the future. We're not considering that in this article.

What about damage to private ways, caused by town plowing?

Adam Chapdelaine notes that the town voted, years ago, to plow private ways for residents. This is a benefit. In the case of severe damage, the town might would consider emergency repairs, if appropriate.

What about the case where failure to maintain a private way causes adverse impacts on a public way? For example, run-off from a private way washing up on a public way.

Doug Heim says the town could seek relief, but it wouldn't be through this bylaw.

How does the town determine when emergency repairs are needed?

The DPW would make that decision, in consultation with emergency services.

Can you elaborate on the process for authorizing emergency repairs?

This is something the Board has struggled with. Up until now, the town has had no authority to make repairs to private ways.

What about cost sharing?

That's what the betterment bylaw does. The town fronts the money for repairs, and then takes it out of your tax bill.

I have a problem with Arlmont Village. Private ways in that neighborhood are used by several municipalities: Arlington, Lexington, and Belmont. Is there a way to share costs across municipalities?

We could ask Belmont or Lexington to participate in a cost sharing agreement, but they're under no obligation to do so. Most private ways in town are statutory private ways, and the abutters are responsible for their upkeep.

What if you can't convince 2/3's of the abutters to pay for repair?

Sorry, there's nothing you can do in that case.

Passes, 203--5.

Article 13: Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture. Article thirteen proposes to amend the town bylaws, renaming the Commission on Arts and Culture, and making a number of structural changes to the organization.

What about a website to integrate all of the arts and culture groups in town -- is that part of this article?

Such a website is in development. It should be launched in a few months, near the end of the fiscal year.

I'm impressed by the complexity of the membership structure, but is it too complex? How was the membership structure decided?

There are some statutory requirements for membership, but there was also a desire for flexibility. A lot of debate went into the proposed membership structure.

Could the Commission on Arts and Culture have been made into the Cultural Council?

No, because of statutory requirements for Cultural Councils.

During the last year, a lot of effort went into the cultural planning process. The new structure will allow artists to get more involved, and to have membership on the commission.

What kinds of projects does the commission entertain? (This town meeting member wanted to pitch a specific idea for a project).

You should talk to the arts council.

This is a good idea, and there's an economic aspect to it. There's great opportunity for collaboration. The challenge will be finding people to do the work.

Passes, 209--2.

Article 14: Tree Preservation and Protection. Article 14 would amend the town's tree preservation bylaw, with the goal of having replacement fees be enough to cover the cost of planting replacement trees.

The current bylaw assesses $500 per tree replaced. The proposal would move the fees out of the bylaw, and under the discretion of the board of selectmen. The Board will start by assessing a fee of $375 per inch DBH.

A town meeting member points out several typos in the main motion.

What's a protected tree?

Dan Dunn explains what a protected tree is.

A member of the tree committee urges town meeting to support this measure. He states that Massachusetts has lost 5,000 acres of tree canopy in the last five years.

Susan Stamps provides a brief overview of how the tree preservation bylaw works.

What does DBH mean, and is it defined in the bylaw?

DBH means "diameter at breast height", and it's a term of art in the industry. DBH is the diameter of the tree at a height of 1.3 meters. The term is defined in the bylaw, but not in the section that we're amending.

Passes, 197--4.

Article 15: Noise Abatement. No action; passes by voice vote.

Article 16: Time of Town Meeting Sessions. No action; passes by voice vote.

Article 17: Demolition of Historic Structures. No action; passes by voice vote.

Article 18: Appointment of Town Comptroller. Article 18 proposes to make comptroller an appointed position. The town manager would appoint the comptroller.

Who will evaluate the comptroller?

The head of the town finance department; most likely the deputy town manager.

Town meeting members point out several typos, which are administratively corrected.

Annie LaCourt calls attention to the last paragraph in the main motion. The last paragraph allows the comptroller to act as a whistleblower, without fear of retaliation. Ms. LaCourt believes it's a very important provision.

Why did three members of the finance committee vote against the selectmen's recommended action?

Al Tosti answers the question. Mr. Tosti doesn't want to speak for other members of the finance committee, but he says that some finance committee members felt that the current bylaw offers more protection for the comptroller.

Charlie Foskett was one of the finance committee members who voted against the selectmen's motion. Mr. Foskett says that the last paragraph was not in the language they voted on, but with the last paragraph, he supports the recommended motion.

Passes, 197--10.