Town Meeting - May 12th, 2021
Sixth night of annual town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting.
208 of 252 town meeting members were present for the check-in vote. There are 26 articles remaining.
(James O'Connor) Mr. O'Connor was Arlington's Assistant Town Moderator, until he moved to Ayer some months ago. He expresses thanks for the 23 years that he served in Arlington Town Meeting. He was just elected town moderator in Ayer.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber invites everyone to join the monthly meetings of the Diversity Task Force. They have meetings on May 17th from 6:45--7:45, and on June 14 from 6:45--8:45.
(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman offers congratulations to Minuteman Students who've qualified to compete in the Skills USA competition.
Article 61 - Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School
This article involves funding for the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School.
(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt is the finance committee liaison to the Minuteman high school. She says they're undertaking a capital project to build new athletic fields.
(Ed Bouquillon, Minuteman Superintendent) Mr. Bouquillon says the new minuteman school was built for 628 students, and there are 630 enrolled. They're expecting over 700 students in the fall. They may have to go back to a hybrid learning model in the fall. He expects student interest to grow, and the school needs to look at increasing capacity to 800 students. They're expanding the list of programs offered.
On the expense side, Minuteman has seen increases in utility, maintenance, and property insurance costs. Arlington's assessment is $6.795 million, which is an increase of $628k over last year. Arlington has a strong enrollment, with 170 students. Each town's assessment is based on a four-year rolling enrollment average.
Operating capital debt includes lighting and new athletic fields. The school has a $20.7M operating budget for FY 2022. They're building three lit synthetic fields and putting aside $168k/year for field maintenance. They're working on installing photo-voltaic solar panels; this will generate a savings of $25--30k/year and allow them to qualify for a $2M LEED reimbursement.
The school's OPEB liabilities are $32M. They've put extra money aside to deal with higher furniture, fixture, and equipment costs associated with a vocational school.
$6.795M is Arlington's preliminary assessment. They may go down when the state budget is finalized, but it will not go up.
(Len Kardon) Mr. Kardon wishes to offer an amendment, to reduce the minuteman appropriation by $10. He wants to put Arlington on the record as rejecting their budget.
(Charlie Foskett, Point of order) Mr. Foskett notes that there's a 48-hour rule for submitting amendments.
(Len Kardon) Mr. Kardon says he wants to vote against the Minuteman budget. He says that Minuteman is so popular now that they need to use selective admissions. Mr. Kardon believes there are 22 Arlington students on the waitlist, while 12 out-of-district students have been admitted. He says Minuteman has offered no explanation for why these out-of-district students were admitted first (i.e,. before in-district Arlington students).
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon understands that there are 13 Arlington students on the waitlist. The waitlist is created because of admission deadlines. There were 277 applicants from nine member towns. The waitlist policy was created when Minuteman always had room, but now that's not the case. It's a serious problem and we want to look at it.
(John Leone, Town Moderator) Mr. Leone asks what the chances are for those 22 students to get in.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says it's 13 students. He believes there's a good chance that they'll be admitted, but he can't guarantee it.
(Christopher Heigham) Mr. Heigham asks if there's a limit to the number of students that can apply.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says there isn't a limit, but there is a slot allocation formula. In this case, there were 98 Arlington applicants for 72 slots. 81 of those 98 were offered admission in the first round.
(Christopher Heigham) Mr. Heigham asks if Arlington's assessment will increase, and what the town is doing to meet costs.
(Charlie Foskett, Finance Committee) Mr. Foskett says that most of the recent tax increases have been due to the high school construction. Arlington follows a five-year planning process, and the Minuteman budget is part of that plan. The Capital for the Minuteman and High School is exempt debt, because the voters voted to exempt it. Our Minuteman assessment is based on the number of students enrolled. Arlington students make up around 35% of Minuteman's student population.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if the field costs were included in Arlington's debt exclusion.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says the fields will cost $7M. $4M of that is coming from MSBA and $1.5 from a capital reserve fund. Lighting was $1.7M.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if this is exempt or non-exempt debt.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says it's part exempt and part non-exempt.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks about plans to enlarge the building.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says there's currently enough vocational space for 800 students.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks what kind of facilities rentals that Minuteman is contemplating.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says they're planning to rent the auditorium and athletic fields.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks about transportation costs.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says the transportation budget is based on a four-year rolling average of enrollment.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if they're expecting to receive federal funds.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon hopes so, but this remains to be seen.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says that without Arlington, Minuteman doesn't have a school. He's concerned that our students aren't able to get in.
(Janice Weber) Ms. Weber asks if Mr. Bouquillon can provide a glossary of acronyms for his next presentation.
(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn notes that Mr. Kardon and Mr. Bouquillon have different numbers for the number of waitlisted Arlington students. He thought that being a member community would benefit us, and that's why we're paying more. He'd like that clarified, and asks what's in it for us.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says that admissions are based on Department of Education requirements and deadlines. 98 Arlington students applied for the Feb 15th deadline, and 81 were admitted. There were 230 admissions for that deadline. As of now, there are 13 Arlington students who've applied and haven't been offered admission.
(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn thinks there's a disservice being done to Arlington. He asks if we're being represented fairly with the number of slots Arlington has been allocated.
(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says that a large slice of Arlington's assessment is based on the number of students admitted. The per-pupil cost of Minuteman is higher, due to the nature of vocational education. Financially, we have a good deal.
(Guillermo Hamlin) Mr. Hamlin motions to terminate debate.
Motion to terminate fails, 151--76--7 (two-thirds vote required).
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says the finance committee unanimously supported the Minuteman budget. Their operating costs increased 2.4%, which is far less than our own budget increases. Dr. Bouquillon explained the issue of deadlines, applications, and existing policies. He's uncomfortable with that process, but can't instantaneously solve it. We're part of a multi-municipality agreement and we pay in proportion to our average four-year enrollment. If we vote this down, the Attorney General and Department of Revenue will still assess us, because we'll be in violation of our agreement. He asks for a vote of favorable action.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks what would happen if we vote no.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says we'll need a special town meeting, and may be subject to litigation by the state.
(Greg Dennis, Point of order) Mr. Dennis has a question about the standards for floor amendments. He thought the moderator could allow amendments that were easily understood, and he thinks Mr. Kardon's amendment is easy to understand.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says he's inclined not to allow the amendment, due to concerns over legal jeopardy.
(Gordon Jamieson, Point of order) Mr. Jamieson asks if our vote matters, because the state assessment will happen anyway.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says that a no vote will not be inconsequential if one-third of the communities reject the Minuteman budget. We will still need to pay. If enough communities reject, we'll likely need a special town meeting in order to sort things out. In terms of penalties, some version of that would likely unfold.
(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says she went back and listened to the 2016 town meeting, where we debated staying in the Minuteman system. Priority admission was one of our goals. She helped campaign for the new Minuteman school, and appreciates it. She doesn't want our kids passed over for out-of-district students.
Ms. Morgan asks how many Arlington students from the Feb 15th application deadline are still on the waiting list.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says there are 13.
(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan asks how many out-of-district students were admitted in that period.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says there were 10 out of district students admitted. He says there are a total of 23 other students from in-district towns that are also on the waitlist.
(Dganit Cohen) Ms. Cohen doesn't understand why 13 Arlington students are on the waitlist. She asks why.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says that 98 Arlington students applied for 72 slots, and 81 were offered admission. Some of these students didn't accept, so we went to the second round of applications. Mr. Bouquillon says that student applications are evaluated and the ones with the highest scores get preference.
(Dganit Cohen) Ms. Cohen asks why ten out-of-district kids were able to get in.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says that the school's admission policy allows out of district students to apply.
(Dganit Cohen) Ms. Cohen asks if Minuteman's budget will pass if we reject it, and other towns accept it.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says yes.
(Dganit Cohen) Ms. Cohen asks what will happen if the Kardon amendment is passed.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim isn't sure what will happen if we approve an amount that's less than our assessment. He's not sure that will be a constructive rejection.
(Paul Schlictman, Point of order) Mr. Schlictman says that a reduction of even $1 will be deemed a rejection of the budget. If 2/3's of the towns reject the budget, then the Minuteman will have to revise it. If we don't have a special town meeting to vote on the revised budget, then it will be deemed accepted.
(Daniel Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut thinks this is a tricky problem. He thinks we're lucky that this issue didn't come to light when we need to ask for an override. It could be perceived as terrible PR. He voted for the Minuteman in the past, because he wanted Arlington students to have a vocational technical option. He was under the impression that in-district towns had special privileges, and out-of-district kids were admitted only if there were vacancies, after all of the in-district kids were admitted. He asks what other member towns have waitlisted students.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says that seven of nine member towns have waitlisted students. There are 65 out-of-district students on the waitlist.
(Daniel Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut asks if there are things about the point-based admission system that might benefit Minuteman, but wouldn't necessarily benefit Arlington.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon thinks that Mr. Jalkut is asking if there's anything in the admissions policy that would favor a more diverse student body. He says the answer is no, it would be a violation of regulations. Minuteman can't favor specific groups in their admission process.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone would like to steer the discussion back to the budget.
(Christoper Moore) Mr. Moore thinks we've been sold a bill of goods, and we need a way to approve the article without putting the budget at risk. He asks if it's possible to separate approval from appropriation.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says no.
(Pat Hanlon, Point of order) Mr. Hanlon asks if we could approve the budget at this meeting, and adopt a resolution expressing disappointment at a later meeting.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says that's possible.
(Dan Dunn) Mr. Dunn thinks that 100% of in-district students should be admitted before any out-of-district students. That requires a change to Minuteman's admission policies, and the path to do that is through the Minuteman School Committee.
(Kate Leary) Ms. Leary says that Massachusetts requires vocational school options. She asks about recourses available to students who were not admitted.
(Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager) Mr. Chapdelaine says responsibility doesn't fall to the local district, but it does fall to the local town. If these students are accepted by another school, we'll have to fund their tuition. However, we're not required to create comparable vocational programs.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham thinks it's very important to guarantee access to vocational schools. Minuteman is expensive, but it's one of the best. We spend $40k/year to send students to Minuteman and $14k/year on public school students. We need to be sure we're getting what we've agreed to. She believes some programs aren't meeting state regulations, because state law says they have to take our students first, before accepting any out-of-district students. She thinks we need to hold Minuteman accountable. If we reject the budget, there will be remediation, and this situation meets that standard. Ms. Heigham says the law requires entrance criteria to be public and asks if that can be shared with the town.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks if that information is easily findable on Minuteman's website.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says that entrance criteria is available on the town website, and is available to the public.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham asks what programs that waitlisted students had applied to.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says that students list three programs of interest when they apply, but don't select a main program until January of their freshman year.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham asks if there's a breakdown of programs that entering students expressed interest in.
(Ed Bouquillon) Mr. Bouquillon says he doesn't have that information in front of him.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham knows that grades and attendance are ranking factors, and she'd like to see the rest of the criteria. She encourages town meeting to vote against the Minuteman appropriation.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe makes a motion to terminate.
Motion to terminate passes, 201--23--6.
Article passes, 169--55--13.
Article 56 - Capital Budget
(Patricia Worden, Point of order) Ms. Worden says she tried to vote on the last article, but was not able to. There was a spinning disc on the screen and her vote wasn't recorded.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone advises Ms. Worden to refresh her browser if that happens again.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett has an amendment to Article 56, which corrects several typos.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar would like to request 15 minutes, so that three speakers can make presentations on the Capital Budget.
Town meeting agrees to the additional presentation time.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says the budget for DPW renovations was increased due to construction cost increases. He introduces Jeff Alberti to explain.
(Jeff Alberti, DPW Project Architect) Mr. Alberti says that the DPW renovations were expected to cost $38.9M, as of last November. Due to market conditions, that estimate is now $43.9M. As a result, the project needs a higher contingency fee. Most of the change is due to increased material costs. The costs of steel, lumber, roofing, flooring, and copper have increased between 30--35%. Factory production has dropped, because of the pandemic.
Mr. Alberti describes several cost control measures that were implemented for the project. They changed the design of the salt shed and removed some items, for a $1.8M reduction. They also increased the contingency fee by $2.25M. They're asking for a total of $5.4M extra.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says the $5.4M pays for increased contingency fees, and reduces the number of impact cuts required. He suggests the money could be raised via additional bonding, which would be repaid through a combination of general funds and the water and sewer enterprise fund. He says we'll need to cut a few things from the capital budget in future years, or shift their timing.
(Allen Reedy, Permanent Town Building Committee) Mr. Reedy says the PTBC voted to request additional funds for the town yard. Without those funds, some buildings won't be able to be improved, and they won't be able to store town equipment. Waiting would likely cost more, and require a new construction process with separate bids. The contingency fees are necessary to deal with possible structural defects in the older buildings. There's also uncertainty surrounding the costs needed to deal with contamination on the site.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says that aside from the DPW renovation, there are no other changes to the capital plan.
(Frank Ciano) Mr. Ciano yields his time to John Leonard.
(John Leonard) Mr. Leonard proposes to eliminate $30k for marble replacement at the highland fire station. He thinks this should be covered by a different funding source. We paid $3.2M for the station renovation less than ten years ago. He doesn't think taxpayers should pay for someone else's mistakes.
(Janice Weber) Ms. Weber wants to know why Arlington is always building things on contaminated land.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says the town negotiated a settlement with a former industrial site for the high school. For the DPW yard, it's less clear who owns the site contamination. The yard has several types of contamination. Some were caused by the DPW. Some came from other sources, and it's not clear who they are.
(Janice Weber) Ms. Weber thinks we should just get rid of the contamination in the first place, and be done with it.
(Bob Jefferson) Mr. Jefferson asks town meeting not to support Mr. Leonard's amendment. He says the $30k is for repairs, and asks if the fire chief can explain what the repairs are.
(Kevin Kelly, Fire Chief) Mr. Kelly says that some sections of marble were struck by vehicles. The $30k is to repair them, and adjust bollards to prevent future damage.
(Bob Jefferson) Mr. Jefferson asks for Mr. Yontar's opinion on the Leonard amendment.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar urges a no vote on the Leonard amendment. He points out that town meeting does not have a line-item veto over budgets. Even if the repairs are defunded, they still need to happen. Any source of funding would ultimately be derived from taxpayer dollars.
(Bob Jefferson) Mr. Jefferson notes that the Permanent Town Building Committee (PTBC) had a long discussion about the DPW yard, and they recommended approving the funding.
(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster would like more details about how bond repayments from the water and sewer enterprise fund would work.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says the finance committee looked at offsets to the water and sewer fund, and thinks the split is appropriate.
(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster asks if we're voting to increase water and sewer rates.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says that $1.3M would be repaid from the water and sewer fund. We may be able to pay that out of reserves, and there may be federal funding available. In the worst case, the increase would be on the order of $5/household per year on their water bills.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson said that the DPW project presentation made him realize that it was a difficult place to build. However, it's the only land we have for the DPW yard. The cost increases are disappointing, but we have a guaranteed cost now. Mr. Jamieson asks if the impact cuts could be put back, if the project comes in under budget.
(Allen Reedy) Mr. Reedy says that some impact cuts will stay out. For example, the design changes to the salt shed. If there was money left over, the PTBC would prefer to return those funds to the town.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson agrees that cost under-runs should be returned to the town. He asks some questions about the increases, and what's covered under exempt vs non-exempt funds.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that when the override passed, the funds were distributed throughout the budget. However, these two items had specific override funds reserved -- kind of like an earmark. So, some of the override funds were reserved for specific purposes.
(Deb Butler) Ms. Butler favors using additional funds to properly complete the DPW yard. She recalls a bathroom remodeling project where the contractor found a huge ant nest above her bathroom ceiling. You have to deal with problems, otherwise, they don't get dealt with.
It's nearly 23:00, and we adjourn for the evening.