Town Meeting - Apr 30th, 2018

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Third evening of town meeting.

Announcements. We have a group of kids visiting us tonight, from our sister city in Japan.

The town manager's office completed several collective bargaining agreements (relating to Article 27). We'll take up article 27 on Wednesday.

The permanent town building committee has a vacancy. If you're interested, please send a cover letter and resume to the select board.

ATED is preparing to open the visitor's center, and are looking for volunteers to staff it.

There are two upcoming cleanup projects in the Spy Pond trail area. Groups will pull invasives on Saturday from 9:00 - noon. On May 12th, there will be trail repairs, trash pickup, and more invasive removal from 9:00 - 1:00.

Article 3: Reports of Committees. Article three is taken from the table, so we can receive more committee reports.

The Arlington Recycling Committee is working on four initiatives: textile recycling, contamination (things in the blue bin that shouldn't be, or things in the trash that should be in the blue bin), compost programs, and monthly events to collect other recyclables. See the town recycling guide for more details.

The Tree Committee performed a town-wide inventory of street trees and trees on public land -- about 10,500 trees in total. This work was funded via DCR grants. The estimated value of Arlington's tree canopy is $43M. We aren't planting enough new trees to replace older ones, and we don't have enough species diversity in town. 43% of our public trees are Norway maples.

Article 34: Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School and Out of District Vocational Placements Kevin Mahoney, Assistant Superintendent of Finance gives a presentation on Minuteman financials. Arlington's share of the FY19 Minuteman appropriation will be $4,936,724. This is the first year we're paying debt service from the new school. The new school is scheduled to open in August 2019. Excluding debt service, this is a 3.6% increase over last year.

Minuteman has been trying to reduce OPEX, given an assumed lower enrollment. The major items for FY19 are the school's stabilization fund, and equipment and fixture replacement. Several towns have dropped out of the minuteman program, and we're expecting reduced transportation costs because of that. Out of program tuition is $58,000.

Current enrollment is 538. Although the number of participating municipalities has decreased, the entering freshman class is holding steady at around 100. This means that the participating municipalities are sending more students.

We expect to open the new building in Fall of 2019. The foundation and steel work are done, and the roof decks have been poured. The school is looking at pursuing partnership arrangements to offset costs. For example, once the old school is torn down, the area can be turned into an athletic field and rented out.

Question: In your presentation, what is E and D?

It's like free cash.

Question: What about future CAPEX costs?

We anticipate one more round of bonding, which in turn will cause another budget increase.

Question: What is the school's history with health care? Are you part of the GIC?

The minuteman was involved in a joint purchasing agreement, but transitioned to a self-funding group. It was more affordable to us.

Question: How's your retirement funding?

We're 87% funded, and working on OPEB.

Question: Do you have planned uses for the old school building?

We plan to demolish it, and develop athletic fields in its place.

Article passes, 212--1.

Article 29: Town Budget

Mr. Tosti reads of a list of errata in the finance committee report. The moderator lists the major sections of the budget, and town meeting members call holds on sections they'd like to discuss.

Board of Selectmen

Question: What's the $9k increase in expenses?

That's due to elections, and early voting. The voting expense increases during election years.

Question: Doesn't the state reimburse us for early voting costs?

2018 will be our second go-round with early elections. We are expecting some reimbursement.

Question: Why did the Board add clerical staff.

To deal with workload increases.

Question: Why are election costs listed on the Board's budget, as opposed to the town clerk?

The town clerk plays a very important role in our elections, but the board is responsible for covering the cost.

Information Technology

Question: Two years ago, there was a goal of updating the town's request/answer center. The system records the address of the requester, but not the address of the issue (e.g., where a sidewalk needs to be repaired, or where a street tree needs maintenance). Can the town capture this information in a way that would facilitate future data analysis?

The request/answer center is funded by the town manager's office, and we can look at this for the coming year.

Question: How vulnerable is the town to hacking?

The town recently did a security assessment, and we're making improvements in response to that.

Question: Are town employees aware of the risks associated with clicking on links?

Yes. The town subscribes to several threat alerts, and we send advisories to employees when needed.

Comment: I was on Facebook a couple of years ago, and I saw people using Facebook to send complaints to town departments. Given what's going on with Facebook, I hope we can stop using it.

Treasurer/Collector

Question: What is the balance of the Symmes Debt?

As of this year, $675,000.

There was a question about out-of-grade pay, and I missed the answer.

Question: Regarding the Symmes, can some of the rental units be converted to condos?

The original agreement had incentives for the developer to convert rental units to condos. The developer has not taken advantage of those incentives.

Assessor

Comment: I noted that my house had an assessed value of $419,000; with respect to recent home sales in my neighborhood, that's a very accurate number, and I commended the Assessors for their accuracy.

Question: What's the town's process for making annual updates to assessed property values?

The assessor's office looks at recent sales in different areas of town, and uses that information to make adjustments.

Question: Does the town have different approaches to updating building values and land values?

Yes, we have different formulas for each.

Question: Is there a difference between the way commercial and residential property tax is assessed?

No, they're assessed in the same way.

Question: Your department sets the property tax rate. Is this basically a big division problem, where we take the amount of expenses to be covered by property taxes and divide by the number of mils in town?

Yes, that's basically it.

Question: Have we considered different bases for residential and commercial property?

The differential rate is set by the board of selectmen, usually in December. We look at this each year; each year we decide that a higher business rate is too likely to scare off businesses.

Question: Some cities and towns have abatements for owner-occupied homes. Have we considered doing this?

The town considers this question periodically. Last time we did, abatements for owner-occupied homes didn't make much sense.

Question: Does the town always increase property taxes by 2.5%.

Pretty much. We don't have a lot of new growth in the tax base.

Planning and Community Development

Comment: I'm astonished at the salary of the director of planning and community development's salary. For what her department does, her salary should be higher. I hope the town manager can look at that.

Question: Could you talk about the new Senior Transportation Planner?

The transportation planner will look at transportation demands, and recommend way to improve transit, decrease congestion, and so forth.

Question: The town budget shows $2.9M for an MBTA assessment. What do we get for that money.

The value comes from a formula, which is set by the state. Arlington was one of the first communities to have an agreement with the MBTA. In their formula, we have a weight of 9. Towns that joined more recently have lower weights. For example, Belmont has a weight of three. We've talked to the state about this several times, but our concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

Comment: Of the 15 bus routes with the worst service, two of them are in Arlington. One of them is the 77.

Public Works

Question: Why is there a $21,000 increase for the tree warden?

The tree warden changed from a part-time to a full-time position.

Question: Why is there a $58,000 increase in repair expenses.

That's mostly an accounting change. We also have to outsource more equipment repairs.

Question: Why is there a $45,000 increase for traffic signal maintenance?

Much of that will go towards painting and refurbishing traffic signals. It's deferred maintenance.

Question: How much salt did we use last winter?

The town spread 9,488 tons of salt on the roads, at a cost of $671,000.

We've made equipment purchases to moderate salt spread. For example, the spreaders on our trucks monitor vehicle speed and adjust the spread accordingly. In 2012, we spread 170 tons per inch of snowfall. In 2017, we reduced this to 130 town per inch of snowfall.

Question: There's a relative lack of public drinking fountains in town. What's the process for choosing where to put fountains, and how to maintain them?

For existing fountains, we've had to deal with changes in the plumbing codes. Many of the outdoor fountains were hooked directly into irrigation systems, and you can't do that anymore. The new codes require check valves and backflow prevention.

Question: Is there a way to have our fountains work all year round?

To prevent freezing, we'd have to keep the water running constantly. That's a waste of water, and an icing hazard.

Comment: Fountains are unhealthy, and you should think twice before using one.

Comment: I commend the DPW for keeping the minuteman bikeway so clean this winter. Arlington did a much better job than Lexington at clearing the snow.

Question: The budget increase for traffic signal maintenance -- will that number go down when we've caught up with the maintenance?

Yes, but it won't happen soon. We have approximately 60 traffic signals in need of work.

Question: Why does water and sewer fund show up so often in the budget?

Water and Sewer is paid with an enterprise fund; it's run like a separate business. Individual departments pay into it directly.

Question: What about lead and our water fountains? Are our fountains safe?

The DPW director indicates that he drinks out of the water fountains.

Question: There's a line item for a crane operator. Does the town own a crane?

The crane operator is the guy who cleans out the storm drains.

Question: Does the DPW have a washing station for their trucks?

We have a wash bay, but it doesn't meet our needs very well. The new DPW facility will have a better washing station.

Facilities

Question: Can you explain the $31,000 in overtime costs?

That's an effort to avoid sub-ing work to contractors.

Comment: Some budget recategorizations are footnoted with an explanation. It would be helpful if this were done more often.

Police

There's a question about changes to pay rates.

We have an administrative assistant coming in at a lower step. Our social worker is half-time.

Question: Does the town have officers that are reimbursed by the FBI?

The town partners with the FBI for some investigations. The FBI doesn't reimburse us for base salaries, but they do reimburse us for overtime.

Question: The number of patrolmen hasn't increased since the town adopted a 25 MPH speed limit. Does the police department have enough resources to do traffic enforcement?

Traffic enforcement efforts are focused on areas with a lot of complaints, and areas where accidents occur most often. Crashes and citations have gone down, so we think resources are adequate.

Comment: I participated in the citizen's police academy program last year, and it was really great.

Question: In future budgets, could you consider changing the term "Patrolmen" to "Patrol Officer"?

We'll look into that.

Question: Does the department have enough bullet proof vests?

Body armor needs to be replaced every five years, and that's done out of our capital budget. We're adequately funded there.

Inspectional Services

Comment: I'm concerned that inspectional services is not adequately funded. There are a lot more building permits being issued.

Last year, town meeting voted to fund a new position in our department, so we have an additional building inspector.

Education

Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Kathleen Bodie present the school budget.

The Gibbs school is set to re-open this year. We've added space to the Thompson and Stratton schools, and the Hardy school expansions are under way. We've added 700 students since 2013.

The school's goals include improving special education, better accommodations for high needs students, and better staff retention and compensation.

We're expecting large middle and high school class sizes in the next five years, and are working on steps to mitigate that. We're planning some innovations for the Gibbs. We're adding full-time teaching assistants for Kindergarten, and increasing professional development options for teachers.

The school budget has a 7.9% increase this year, and that includes funds we've received from the state. It would have been 5.9% without the Gibbs renovation.

Question: What's the $283k increase for management services?

Salary increases. The new Gibbs principal is part of that.

Question: What's behind the increase in operations and maintenance?

Most of that comes from re-opening the Gibbs School. We'll have to hire more staff.

Question: What's been budgeted for library books at the Gibbs?

We don't have a separate line item for the Gibbs Library, but we're planning to spend $70--80k.

Question: In the United States, we've seen a wave of teachers asking to be treated as professionals. How are our teacher's salaries?

We lag behind the average teacher salary for the town managers 12. Teacher salaries are being discussed in negotiations. Likewise for administrator salaries.

Question: I commend the school committee for deciding to re-use the Gibbs School. Have you considered re-using the Parmenter School?

We haven't considered using the Parmenter for classroom space. The building is currently leased, and it's only able to accommodate about 300 students. It's not ideal because of size, renovation costs, and staffing costs.

Question: PTOs are raising $400-500k, and spending that money on students. This money goes towards have-to-have things, rather than nice-to-have things. For example, we reimburse teachers out-of-pocket expenses for classroom materials. Can some of this be captured in the school budget reports, so it's reflected in the override conversation?

That consideration has already been tasked out, to to different subcommittees of the school committee.

Comment: The town has been very supportive of PTO efforts. But some formal guidance on financial management would help.

Providing guidance is a reasonable thing to explore.

Comment: Massachusetts has the best schools in the country, and Arlington has some of the best schools in the state. We're very cost-effective.

Question: When doing the high school rebuild, can administrative offices be moved off-site, for safety reasons?

We're considering the Parmenter for that. Or, perhaps a dedicated entrance for administrative staff.

Question: My question has to do with professional development. I'm very impressed at what the school is doing with cultural competency training. What's the accountability process for implementing these programs?

All schools have cultural competency goals, and accountability is an ongoing discussion. School principals meet regularly to talk about this, and to share information. Not all of the schools are going to do exactly the same things.

Question: I have a question about the registration process. Kindergarten registration is now on-line, which is much easier for parents. Arlington is in a position where we have high property values and good schools. How does the school ensure that new students are residents of Arlington?

Part of the registration process involves showing proof of residency. There are a few out of town registrations each year, but there are more gray areas than you'd expect. We try to ensure this doesn't happen.

Question: What is "Student out-of-district transport"?

It's out of district placement for special education. This can be $50k for tuition and $14k for transportation. The cost depends on the program that the student needs. Some programs are much more expensive. There are about 114 students in out-of-district placement. This number has stayed relatively constant, but the tuition cost has increased.

Question: Are the school's anti-bullying policies sufficient to prevent out-of-district placement from bullying?

We take bullying very seriously, and we don't want any student to feel unsafe in our schools. We keep metrics on the number of bullying incidents reported, and the number that are referred to the principal for discipline. The number of disciplinary referrals has gone down a lot.

Comment: I hope the school uses restorative justice techniques for disciplinary action.

Meeting adjourns at 23:06. We'll continue the budget discussion on Wednesday.