Town Meeting - Apr 25th, 2018

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Town meeting session #2.

Announcements. (John Mahr) The Symmes non-profit corporation has grant money to distribute to health-related organizations. Applications are due by June 1st.

Article 3: Reports of Committees. Permanent Town Building Committee. The PTBC has been busy with school projects. With the re-opening of the Stratton school, all of the town's elementary schools have been rebuilt. We're adding classrooms to the Hardy, and the Gibbs will re-open in the fall as a school for sixth graders. Other projects include the DPW yard and the Senior Center.

Retirement Board. The retirement board has five voting members: two are chosen by the board of selectmen, two are elected by town employees and retirees, and the fifth is chosen by the other four. There are 730 active and 300 non-active retirees in the system.

Unlike the rest of the town, the retirement board budgets on a calendar year. The retirement board has $140M in assets and $140M in unfunded liabilities; the latter is money we need to acquire. This past year was the first time we've closed the books with assets that exceeded what we had before the 2008 stock market crash. We must be fully funded by 2040, and we should achieve this goal by 2036.

95% of the retirement funds are invested through the state's pension fund. The retirement board also oversees the town's OPEB fund, which earned 16% last year.

Master Plan Implementation Committee. (Charlie Kalauskas). Arlington adopted the master plan during 2015's town meeting. In the area of land use, a zoning recodification was approved in Feb 2018, and three new mixed-use projects have been approved. We plan to look at business district updates in 2018. During the coming year, the residential study group will begin to explore residential design guidelines. There will be a housing forum on May 24th.

(Joseph Barr) The town is pursuing a bus rapid transit project. There will be a public meeting about this on May 16th. We're also working with MAPC to bring a bike sharing program to town. The town received a MAPC grant to do an economic revitalization study of Arlington Heights. There will be a presentation about this on May 23rd. We've worked on the Arts and Culture plan, and how to develop the town's cultural district. We're looking at the Mill Brook corridor, and how to better utilize this as a resource for the town.

Article three is laid upon the table.

Article 30: Capital Budget. Charlie Foskett presents the article.

There are 75 items in this year's capital budget, and over 800 in the five-year plan. The town will make $11.6M in capital expenditures this year. Funding comes from four sources: cash, bonds, other, and CPA. Major upcoming projects include $4M for improvements to the senior center (non-exempt funds), and $20M of improvements to the DPW facility (combination of exempt and non-exempt funds). The high school is the biggest upcoming capital project.

Question: The budgets shows $60k for an Ottoson music room upgrade study this year, and $10k for upgrades last year. Why are we studying a music room upgrade if we've already done one?

Those headings are reversed in the report. We did the study last year (for $10k), and plan to make the improvements this year.

Question: What are we doing with the $100k budgeted for town hall renovations?

We budget $100k/year for town hall improvements. Last year, we replaced the boiler. This year, we plan to fix the granite steps in front of the building.

Question: Both the DPW and the fire department are getting 4x4 pickup trucks. Why is the fire department's truck more expensive than the DPWs?

The fire chief isn't here to answer, and no one on the Capital Planning committee is sure.

Question: Why did the ambulance revolving fund drop by 2/3's?

That, unfortunately, was due to a mistake in a spreadsheet formula. The amount will drop this year; next year, it will increase to make up the difference.

Comment: I'd like to point out that the town is using CPA funds to maintain playgrounds, so those improvements don't have to come out of the capital budget.

Question: Are there plans to do anything with the Spy Pond Playground?

It's something we're looking out. There's a capital aspect to it, but there's also a historical aspect.

Question: We're using $375k of bonding for public safety radio upgrades. Is this something we can get grant funding for?

Yes, we're looking at federal programs for next-generation 911 funding.

Question: Several capital projects involve tree planting. However, a lot of these trees aren't watered and die. Can we do something to ensure these trees are watered?

We'd need additional resources on the tree department staff to cover this. (i.e., there's OPEX that comes along with the CAPEX).

Question: How much will the High School capital improvements affect tax rates?

We estimate a $700/year increase for a property valued at $650k. It depends on the specifics of the override plan, and the repayment schedule.

Question: We spend 5% of the budget on capital expenses. Is that codified anywhere?

No, it's town practice.

Comment: I'd suggest using less than 5%, to lessen the impact of the high school rebuild.

There's a motion to terminate debate.

Article passes, 207--1.

Article 39: Community Preservation Fund. Eric Hellmuth presents the article. CPA funds can be used in three areas: Historic Preservation, Affordable and Community Housing, and Open space and recreation. Each year, the town must spend or reserve 10% of expected revenues for each of the three categories. The CPA also has an OPEX component, which goes to staff time to administer the funds. This offsets part of the town's staffing costs.

This year's projects include: a study of how to redo the Hardy school playground; repairing the pump and filtration system at Arlington reservoir; studies to seek grants for Mill Brook improvements; foundation repairs to the Jason Russell House; window maintenance at Schwamb Mill; and the Housing Corporation of Arlington's affordable housing project at Downing Street.

Question: Are the CPA offsets shown in the budget?

Yes, they're shown in Budget #3 (the Town Manager's Budget).

Comment: The CPA has significantly increased the amount of money that the town invests in affordable housing.

Question: How do this year's state funds compare to prior years, and what kind of state funding should we expect in future years?

State funding is down from last year, and it's expected to drop further, especially when Boston adopts the CPA. There have been some efforts in the state legislature to provide more CPA funding, but nothing has happened yet.

Comment: Historic preservation is an important part of the community preservation act. Whittemore park is a historic parcel. I don't want CPA funds used to remove the railroad tracks there.

Question: Why is there only 8% allocated to historic preservation?

The 8% is the portion taken from this year's CPA revenue. We're taking some historic preservation money from reserve funds.

Question: There are two HCA projects: Downing Square, and Broadway. How will funding be allocated between the two?

These two projects will be treated as a whole; we don't have specific allocations for each area. Treating them as a single project gives us some advantages in terms of seeking funding from other sources.

Comment: I wish we could vote on each CPA category separately.

There's a motion to terminate debate.

Article passes, 174--2.

Article 19: Municipal Finance Department. Article 18 would direct the selectmen to file home rule legislation, for the creation of a consolidated town finance department.

Question: Can the town manager appoint a finance department director from a position other than those listed in the main motion?

The finance director can be one of the positions listed, but is not required to be one of those position. The motion was worded that way for flexibility.

Article passes, 200--7.

Article 20: Change the Board of Selectmen to Select Board. Article 20 was sponsored by ten registered voters. It would rename the Board of Selectmen to the Select Board. The goal is to have a gender-neutral name for the board, but still keep the historical roots of the name.

(Naomi Greenfield). Ms. Greenfield talks about gender stereotypes. She'd like to step away from language that makes assumptions about gender. Words, language, and representations matter. There are substitute motions with different suggestions. This reminds me of times when I've made suggestions, only to have similar suggestions made by men. (The two substitute motions were made by men.)

(Paul Schlictman). Mr. Schlictman filed one of the substitute motions, which would create a study committee to gather public input and recommend a new name for the board.

Mr. Schlictman believes that changing the name to select board doesn't remove gender bias. Also, "Select Board" does little to convey what the board actually does. He'd like to involve more people in the decision.

(Timur Yontar). Timur filed the second substitute motion, which proposes to rename the Board of Selectmen to the Town Council.

Mr. Yontar fully supports gender neutral language. This change will endure for many years, so let's get it right. I think the name "Select Board" sounds awkward. I prefer Town Council, where the members are called Councilors. Wakefield recently adopted this name.

(Mel Goldsipe). Ms. Goldsipe is encouraged by the presence of women on the board. We're already behind the times, and we should remove the gendered language. This is important both for women, and for gender non-conforming individuals. Please don't push this off for another year.

(Jennifer Susse). Ms. Susse supports the original motion. Select Board reflects the historical name. In Massachusetts, only five towns have five-member select boards, where the majority of board members are women. I'm a big believer in stakeholder engagement, because that leads to better decision making. But that approach doesn't always work for issues of inclusivity. When a group feels marginalized, the majority won't always find a good answer.

(Annie LaCourt). Ms. LaCourt was a selectwoman for seven years, and during that time, the majority of the board were women. This change is important, and I like the idea of keeping historical traditions with the name Select Board.

(John Leonard). In 1976, our town manager renamed the police chief to the director of police services, and the fire chief to the director of fire services. In 2002, we changed the names back. Whatever name we give to the board, the challenge will be in getting the word out.

(Joe Tully). Mr. Tully supports Mr. Schlictman's motion. The debate is what's the most suitable name, and it's important to take our time in making that decision.

(Kevin Greeley) Mr. Greeley was originally opposed to this article, but has since seen the error of his ways. If this changes brings one more woman of the quality I've served with, then it will have been worth it. Please keep the term "select", which dates back to pre-colonial times. I'd be proud to be a member of the select board.

(John Deyst). Motion to terminate debate.

Yontur motion fails, 23--183.

Schlictman motion fails, 21-185.

Recommended motion succeeds, 195--6.

Article 21: Vision 2020. Article 21 would rename the Vision 2020 committee to Envision Arlington.

(Juli Brazille). The vision 2020 standing committee was first formed in 1990, as way to allow the town and residents to better work together. They drafted nine vision statements, which were presented to town meeting in 1992. In 1993, town meeting adopted these nine statements as town goals. The committee plans to revisit its roots over the next two years. We want to create a cycle of discussion, work, and review. We want to find answers together. We'd also like to create action plans for each of the nine goals.

(Bill Berkowitz). I'm a big fan of Vision 2020, and I was involved in its formulation during the 1990s. I'd like to encourage a focus on resident participation. Having 16% turnout in local elections is not good. The drop in Vision 2020 survey responses is also not good. There are plenty of ways to improve citizen participation. We can have neighborhood groups. Town meeting members can act as ambassadors for more resident involvement. We could work with the chamber of commerce, or create virtual welcome wagons. We could ramp up civic education, and put kiosks in public areas. We should strive to create a culture of public participation. Everyone in the community is an asset. I support the motion.

(Paul Schlictman). 1993 was my first year in town meeting. Vision 2020 was very controversial at the time, but the organization has done great work.

Article passes, 194--0.

Article 22: Local option taxes. There is no main motion for article 22, and the moderator moves no action. No action; passed by voice vote.

Article 23: Endorsement of CDBG Application. Article 23 would approve the proposed use of community development block grants, as put forth by the selectmen and town manager.

Question: The main motion makes reference to the Board of Selectmen. Do we have to change that?

Town Counsel believes we don't. The Board's name doesn't change until the Attorney General approves it.

Question: Do we have a plot of land for Food Link?

No, we don't have a location yet.

Article passes, 198--0.

Article 24: Revolving Funds. No discussion. Article passes 195--0.

Article 26: Positions reclassification. Article 26 proposes changes to the Classification and Pay Plan.

Question: why are these positions being added? Also, why are there dollar amounts next to some positions but not other.

The motion has three sections. The first section involves current town employees, where changes in their job duties or responsibilities warrant reclassification. Items in this group have dollar amounts attached to them.

The next two sections are for planning purposes. The second section adds positions which can be held in the town, but doesn't staff them. The third section removes a set of positions, which the town believes are no longer necessary. These groups don't affect any town employees, so there are no dollar amounts associated with the reclassifications.

Article passes, 195--1.

Article 27: Collective Bargaining. There's a motion to lay Article 27 on the table, because union negotiations are currently ongoing. The article is laid upon the table.

Article 28: Parking Operating Costs. Article 28 would move funds to cover operating costs of parking meters.

Someone points out a couple of typos, which are administratively corrected.

Question: What will the money be spent on?

The money will be spent on operating costs for the parking meters, which includes lease payments for the meters. The town will not purchase or replace meters this year.

Article passes 197--2.

There's a motion to adjourn; and the meeting adjourns at 22:57.