Town Meeting - Jun 15th, 2020
Arlington held an abbreviated town meeting this year, due to the COVID-19 health emergency. We assembled outdoors in the athletics field behind the high school. Everyone was wearing masks, and seated at least six feet apart. Non-essential articles were deferred to a future town meeting, and tonight consisted of passing things like the budget, the capital plan, use Community preservation act funds, and other financial articles. The whole meeting took less than two hours.
Article 3: Reports of Committees. Town meeting received reports from the Select Board, Community Preservation Act Committee, the Capital Planning Committee, and the Arlington Redevelopment Board.
Article 4: Appointment of Measurer of Wood and Bark. John Worden was re-appointed to the honorary position of measurer of wood and bark.
Article 5: Election of Assistant town Moderator. James O'Connor was elected Assistant Town Moderator.
Article 6: Consent Agenda #1. The purpose of this article was to vote No Action on 47 articles that were recommended for deferral to a later town meeting. No action vote passed on all 47 articles.
Article 50: Endorsement of CDBG Application. Town meeting voted to endorse this year's Community Development Block Grant projects.
Article 61: Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School and Out Of District Vocational Placements. Ed Bouquillon (Superintendent of Minuteman Vocational Technical High School) Presents. Minuteman was holding classes in the new school until March 15th, when the pandemic struck. There's been a significant increase in member town enrollment. The school expects to have 650 students this fall, and there is a waiting list to get in. The $6.1M appropriation includes Arlington's portion of capital costs for the new school. 93 Arlington students applied for this fall, and Dr. Bouquillon expects 65 of them to be admitted. The withdrawal of towns (like Belmont) means there are fewer member towns to share the cost of the school.
Zarina Memon ask how much out of district tuition was. There were no out-of-district students this year.
Ms. Memon asks why will this fall's enrollment be higher than the school's design capacity. Mr. Bouquillon says the MSBA design capacity is 85% of physical capacity.
Ms. Memon asks what costs does the $6.1M appropriation cover? Mr. Bouquillon states that the appropriation covers both operating expenses, and capital costs for the new school. Slide seven of the presentation distributed to town meeting members contains a cost breakdown.
Ms. Memon asks what the per-resident cost in Arlington is. Dr. Bouquillon doesn't have this figure off the top of his head. But, $6.1M / 44,000 works out to be about $139/resident.
Article 53: Town Budget. Finance Committee Chairman Al Tosti presents. The town manager's office and school department cut 10% of their budgets, under the assumption that state aid will decrease by around 15%. That assumption about state aid is the precedent for our budget, and the cuts allow the budget to be balanced. We've increased the amount of money going to the fiscal stabilization fund. We're projecting a deficit in FY 2024, which would require a 16% increase in property taxes to make up the difference. There are likely to be further cuts in the future.
Moderator John Leone reads the name of each section listed in the budget. There are holds placed on the DPW, Police Department, Education, and Ed Burns Arena budgets.
DPW. John Leonard asks why both the capital and operating budgets contain expenses for traffic signals. DPW director Michael Rademacher explains that the operating budget covers maintenance, and the capital budget covers the cost of new equipment.
Police Department. Jordan Weinstein claims that the police department has the largest departmental budget under the town manager. He notes that patrolmen are getting a 1.25% raise in 2021, captains are getting at 8.7% raise, sergeants are getting a 6.5% raise, and lieutenants are getting a 5.7% raise. He asks why the patrolmen's raise is lower than the senior officers. Al Tosti explains that the ranking officers have a collective bargaining agreement, while the patrolmen do not. The patrolmen haven't settled, so they're getting step raises.
Mr. Weinstein asks why the captains are getting an 8.7% increase from collective bargaining. Mr. Tosti says that town meeting passed this collective bargaining agreement last year. This year's budget contains two years worth of pay increases for ranking officers.
Mr. Weinstein asks if he can make a motion.
Moderator John Leone says that town meeting may not vote to change personnel salaries.
Mr. Weinstein asks if he can make a motion to reduce the overall police department budget.
Mr. Leone tells Mr. Weinstein that he's putting him in a difficult position. The moderator's letter to town meeting stated that substitute motions had to be received, in writing, three days ago. It sounds like Mr. Weinstein had some conversation with the moderator on this topic, but never submitted a substitute motion. The moderator will not allow a substitute motion to be introduced at this point.
Education. Sheri Baron asks if the Superintendent will give a report this evening, and if the school budget was cut. Mr. Mason, the school department CFO, says the budget was decreased with respect to expected increases. Ms. Baron asks if anyone in the school department was let go. Mr. Mason says no.
John Leonard asks about security during construction of the new high school. School Superintendent Kathleen Bodie says there was a meeting this afternoon about security at the construction site. They plan to install high resolution cameras and adopt a new set of security protocols.
Ed Burns Arena. Beth Ann Friedman states that the arena's been closed for three months, and that it seems like expenses and revenue won't balance. She asks how the difference will be made up. Deputy Town Manager Sandy Pooler says they're discussing this with the new rink directory, who's planning to open the rink this fall. We believe we'll be able to bring in revenue, but it's something we'll continue to monitor.
Budget passes by voice vote.
Article 54: Capital Budget. Capital Planning Committee chair Timur Yontar presents. He acknowledges the work of committee members and explains the format of this year's Capital Planning Committee report. In FY 2021, the largest capex expenses come from DPW and the schools. He expects to see less revenue in upcoming years, and the need to work with town departments to prioritize planning.
Jordan Weinstein asks how the police department plans to use the $135k slated for vehicle replacement. Mr. Yontar says the capital planning committee has budgeted $135k for police vehicle replacement during the last few years. They typically replace three vehicles.
Mr. Weinstein asks if any thought was given to replacing fewer vehicles. Mr. Yontar says that vehicles are typically replaced on a schedule. There was no consideration given to altering vehicle replacement schedules for the police, or for any other department.
Elizabeth Dray asks how often police vehicles are replaced. Police Chief Julie Flaherty says that vehicles are typically replaced every 3--4 years, depending on the mileage. Motorcycles have longer replacement periods. Parking control and animal control vehicles have an event longer replacement period.
Gordon Jamieson states that water and sewer has the largest budget, at $23M. He also points out the 5% rule that we use for planning capital budgets. (i.e., that 5% of the town's annual budget is set aside for capex).
Annie LaCourt states that the police department is 5% of the town's overall budget. She asks if we can afford the 5% capital planning policy in the middle of a fiscal crisis. Mr. Yontar says the goal is to keep capital expenses at 5% of the total budget, or less. We could reduce the amount, at the risk of having things fall apart because we aren't doing upkeep. We don't want to be penny-wise and pound foolish.
Someone points out that the police department is 8.3% of the non-school budget, behind DPW and water and sewer.
John Deist states that 90% of a police car's life is spent idling, in order to power the electronic equipment in the vehicle. He thinks it would be great to have a performant electric police car, and hopes the capital planning committee will consider that. Mr. Yontar says they're interested in exploring this option for smaller vehicles.
Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine points out that the police department's parking control vehicles are electric. Ford has a pursuit-rated hybrid, and we may be able to look at that in a year or so.
The moderator takes a voice vote on Articles 54, Article 59 (Financing the construction of sewers and sewerage facilities), and Article 60 (Financing the construction of water mains and water facilities). These articles involve bonding, which requires a 2/3's vote.
Voice vote in the affirmative.
Article 66: Community Preservation Plan. Community Preservation Act Committee Chair Eric Helmuth presents. The seven projects we're funding are time critical. We're also including funds for an emergency rental assistance program.
Article 6: Consent agenda #2. This consent agenda contains 21 articles with concrete recommended actions. The moderator reads the list of articles, and none are held for discussion.
Consent agenda passes.
Article 77: Fiscal Stability Stabilization Funds. Article passes.
The annual town meeting is dissolved.