Town Meeting - May 16th, 2022
Night seven of town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2022-town-meeting-warrant.
- 1 Introductions
- 2 Article 3 - Reports
- 3 Article 50 - Budgets
- 4 Article 51 - Capital Budget
- 5 Article 53 - Financing of Construction of Sewers and Sewerage Facilities
- 6 Article 54 - Financing and Construction of Water Mains and Water Facilities
- 7 Article 57 - Town Celebrations and Events
- 8 Article 60 - Bluebikes
- 9 Notices of Reconsideration
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana informs the body that there will be no meeting on Memorial Day. He plans to continue the straw poll process for termination of debate, and that will trigger no sooner than after 15 minutes. Mr. Christiana says that Elsie Fiore passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. Ms. Fiore was a town meeting member from 1962 up to a few years ago.
Article 3 - Reports
(Joe Barr, Master Plan Implementation Committee) Mr. Barr is the co-chair of the Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC) and he moves receipt of their report. The MPIC continues to make progress and their report spotlights several warrant articles that advance the master plan. The Select Board endorsed and the MPIC approved the Sustainable Transportation Plan. The Department of Planning and Community Development has started work on a Minuteman Bikeway study. The ARB and Select Board approved the housing production plan. The town is working on a Safe Routes to School program, and expanding the use of Bluebikes. DPCD has requested $100k to support two years of continued Bluebikes service. CPA funds are being used to advance several recommendations of the master plan. The Zoning Bylaw Working Group provided feedback on several warrant articles. The town has started an archaeological survey and finalized the open space plan.
Mr. Barr says that MPIC endorsed zoning articles 28, 29, and 41 as furthering the goals of the master plan. He acknowledges there have been a lot of email about the MPIC's position on Article 38, and he would like to correct the record there. The MPIC discussed article 38 at one of their meetings, but took no position on the article.
Article 50 - Budgets
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says we'll debate the remaining budgets that were held, and then vote on the entire budget. There was a request to reconsider the education budget, but debate on that budget has already been terminated.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a few questions about the budget in general, and though the Fincom budget would be an appropriate place to ask them. When we talk about budgets, much of the discussion tends to focus on spending, and for good reason. Mr. Revilak would like to talk about the other side of the balance sheet: income, and particularly new growth. He asks the moderator if someone can provide a short definition of what new growth is.
(Charlie Foskett, Finance Committee Chair) Mr. Foskett says that new growth is new construction or development that expands the town's asset base.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks how new growth affects the town's deficit, and the need for overrides.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that new growth shows up as property taxes in the five year plan. The increases show up there.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if more new growth would decrease the deficit, or reduce the need for overrides.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett answers in the affirmative.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that Arlington's public annual financial report says that we had 0.72% new growth. When compared to other communities listed in the financial report, Arlington comes in last for new growth, and we're also well below the statewide average of 1.60%. Mr. Revilak asks why there's so little new growth in Arlington.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says it's because Arlington is out of land. He believes that new growth is for communities like Devins, where an army base closed. Or for towns that have a lot of land.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is skeptical. There are communities around Arlington -- Cambridge, Somerville, Waltham, and Watertown -- that have plenty of new growth, despite not having large tracts of vacant land. Mr. Revilak says he doesn't expect Arlington to match, say, Cambridge or Watertown's rate of new growth. However, he believes that some new growth would help take the edge off our overrides.
(Dean Miller) Mr. Miller says it's appropriate to be concerned about overrides. If other towns are land restricted, then what's the difference.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe motions to terminate debate on the Fincom budget.
Motion to terminate passes, 201--24--5.
Town Manager Office
(John Mahr) Mr. Mahr says the Town Manager position is extremely important, and there are three other communities in the area that are looking for town or city managers. Mr. Mahr asks about the selection process.
(Len Diggins, Select Board Chair) Mr. Diggins says they've hired a search firm, and are looking to appoint an interim town manager.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says that for a long time, he's been concerned about growth in the headcount of town departments, and insufficient capital spending. He asks why Arlington didn't lay off any employees during the pandemic. Mr. Kaepplein claims that twelve towns furloughed employees, while Arlington hired new ones.
(Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager) Mr. Chapdelaine isn't familiar with the twelve towns that Mr. Kaepplein is referring to. Arlington added two positions during the pandemic. Those positions were funded via ARPA and will not continue when ARPA funds run out.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett agrees with earlier laudatory comments about the town manager. For the next town manager, Mr. Foskett thinks Arlington should look for someone to control expenses.
(Alia Atlas) Ms. Atlas says the budget for total personnel services has gone up, and she sees expenses going up as well. She asks why.
(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says this is the first year that elections have been included in the Town Clerk's budget. In the past, those expenses have been listed under the Select Board budget.
Department of Planning and Community Development
(Nancy Bloom) Ms. Bloom says that expenses went up $81k. She asks if that was for an extra person.
(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says the major difference is how the CDBG administrator position is reported. The position has always existed, but this is the first time it's been reported in the general budget. In prior years, it was reported as part of the grants budget. So, we're reporting it here, with a corresponding offset.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks if the town is planning to mess up -- and by "mess up", he means "reconfigure" -- any more intersections.
(Michael Rademacher, DPW director) Mr. Rademacher says that the department is currently working on the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton St, and at an intersection on Chestnut Street.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks if the DPW plans to remove the markers at Appleton St. He says he sees them causing problems there.
(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the permanent changes to Mass Ave and Appleton are still in the design stages.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein has a question about Mt. Gilboa repaving. He says the land and house are owned by the town. He asks how the town was repaving a private way there.
(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says it was a private way in the area.
(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says that Arlington invests a lot of money in town-owned buildings, but she believes they're assessed at well under their market value. She says that facilities plays an important role in building maintenance, and asks if that department has a report for town meeting.
(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says the facilities department has suffered from turnover in previous years, and a new department head just started today. There's no annual report yet.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley says that Mr. Feeney reached out to him regarding the facilities department, and they had an email exchange. The facilities department has had a tough time finding maintenance employees and they're very short-staffed. He says it would be nice to have descriptions of the town's step programs, and ways to make pay competitive.
(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein sees a 22% decrease in the salary of the department's social worker, which he assumes is a full-time position becoming 3/4 time. He asks why.
(Julie Flaherty, Police Chief) Ms. Flaherty says the cost is being shared with Health and Human Services. They didn't reduce the position.
(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein asks why the budget shows a decrease.
(Sandy Pooler, Deputy Town Manager) (I missed Mr. Pooler's answer)
(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein says the police department is paying $660k in overtime, and that amount seems to be consistent from year to year. He asks why the police department doesn't just hire another body or two.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that hiring vs overtime is something that we try to balance. Sometimes there are vacancies in the department, which leads to more overtime. There have also been persistent hiring challenges. We do try to hire the right number of people.
(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein hopes that town management can look into the overtime issue. Regarding the use of body cameras, how much will that cost, and where is that listed in the budget?
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says that doesn't appear in the budget. The department is still negotiating with the police unions over the use of body cameras. They expect to purchase the equipment with asset forfeiture funds.
(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber asks if there are policies for body cameras.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says they haven't purchased the cameras yet, but they do have draft policies.
(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber ask what the line item for "stipends" is.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says it's for clothing.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks a question about traffic details.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says the number of details has generally been low.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson hopes the police chief and town manager will monitor this He asks where the fees to schedule details go.
(Adam Chapdelaine) (I missed Mr. Chapdelaine's answer)
(Ezra Fischer) Mr. Fischer shares the concern about overtime. He asks who approves requests for overtime, and what are the criteria.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says the department needs to maintain a minimum level of staffing. If the level falls below that, then we'll hire overtime.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that staffing can fall when police officers retire.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham motions to terminate debate on the police budget.
Motion to terminate passes, 170--53--3.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson welcomes the new director of inspectional services. He asks if the director could summarize the department's functions.
(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa says the department's main functions are issuing and reviewing building permits, and enforcement of the Zoning Bylaw.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if there's an objective for new hires.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says he's filled positions for a building inspector and an administrator. He says that will help the department catch up on enforcement.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Gordon asks Mr. Ciampa if he can talk about the new building permit process.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says the department now requires builders to sign a final cost affidavit. He says that's led to more realistic cost estimates.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if there are benefits to going through ISD, or penalties for not doing so.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says that construction is at it's highest rate right now, and his inspectors do find things that were not done to code, and sometimes homeowners being defrauded. He says there are penalties for doing work without a permit. For a professional builder, it would be a triple fee penalty.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says he looks forward to a new level of integrity from the inspectional services department. He has a question about sign bylaw enforcement. He says there's a church that has six signs in the window, but believes they're only allowed two. He made a complaint about this, but there was no enforcement.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says his department has struggled with a staff shortage. They've filled vacancies, and that will allow them to address things they've been unable to address in the past, due to staffing shortages.
Arlington Youth Counseling Center
(Beth Benedikt) Ms. Benedikt says the money budgets for a psychiatric nurse, and the amount has increased from $45k to $99k to $123k. But there's also a psychiatrist position that goes to zero. She asks about this.
(Christine Bongiorno, Health and Human Services Director) Ms. Bongiorno believes that's an error in the finance committee report. She says the psychiatric nurse and psychiatrist retired. Those were combined into a new psychiatrist position at $123k.
(Beth Benedikt) Ms. Benedikt asks if there are plans to hire a new psychiatric nurse.
(Christine Bongiorno) Ms. Bongiorno says they're sticking with the single psychiatrist position. It's very difficult to find psychiatric nurses right now.
That's it for budget deliberations.
Budget passes, 224--7--3.
Article 51 - Capital Budget
(Timur Yontar, Capital Planning Committee Chair) Mr. Yontar says the Capital Planning Committee report lists what capital items the town will buy and what debt service we'll see. The FY23 acquisitions from from taxes, bonds, or other sources of funding. 52% of the capital budget goes to public works, 16% to schools, and 14% to fire and police, mostly for vehicles. The remainder goes to buildings, IT, and other departments. The budget also has new bonds, totaling $2.3M..
There's $19.1M in debt service, which is paid mostly from taxes. Most of this is non-exempt debt.
Total capital expenditures are $9.1M this year. The town's rule is that no more than 5% of the budget should be spent on capital expenses. This rule constrains the town to live within its means.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says the budget includes additional classrooms as the Pierce school. He asks what that $100k is going for.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says the school needed a reconfiguration to accommodate additional students. It's a reconfiguration within the existing building envelope, rather than an addition.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone has a question about the Hardy School roof. He asks if the roof is defective.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says that Hardy is the second-oldest elementary school rebuilt. It was remodeled in 2001. The elementary schools that were renovated first are starting to need some work.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone is glad to see that we have a plan for maintaining buildings.
(Brooks Harrelson) Mr. Harrelson asks about the line item for "Town Microcomputer program".
(Patty Sheppard, Town CIO) Ms. Sheppard says that money will go to desktop computers for staff, as well as network switches and printers.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes there's a line item to replace an engine pumper. He asks if the fire department looked at an all-electric pumper.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says the Capital Planning Committee didn't discuss all-electric engines. He didn't know they were available. Fire engines require more power, and they're further back on the list for EV adoption.
(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says the town will have to research that technology. The city of Los Angeles recently purchased an all-electric pumper, and that might be the first one in the nation. It cost 50% more than a conventional fire engine. We'll have to research the effects of winter temperatures on these vehicles, and how their battery life is affected.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson hopes we'll look at electric models the next time we have to replace a pumper.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson has a question about the Brackett school.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says we're repairing the Brackett school playground, which is intended to last for a few years. The FY23 budget includes funding for a study of the playground, and to figure out a long term fix.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks how much we spent on the steps and patio in front of town hall.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar isn't sure. That work was paid for in a prior year's budget.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley notes the line item for bike racks, and asks what that's about.
(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says the bike racks are being installed in consultation with the Parks and Recreation department.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks about the line for engineering consulting services.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the Department of Planning and Community Development is planning to hire a consultant for assistance with starting new projects. Sometimes these projects exceed the expertise of the department and the capacity of the engineering division. She says that the consultant would be hired via an RFP process.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks about the line item for roadway design and consultation.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the public works department sometimes has to hire out for work that's beyond the capacity of his department.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks about the item for traffic signal upgrades.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that Arlington has an aging traffic signal system, and we're trying to upgrade it.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks if something can be done about the timing of light cycles.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that would be an engineering study, not a capital expense.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks about the line item for Big Belly trash compactors.
(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says these units cost about $5000/each. Outdoor dining was the main motivation for this purchase. With outdoor dining, items that used to be thrown away in restaurants are now being thrown away in public receptacles, and it's been hard for the town to keep up. The Big Belly compactors have a larger capacity, and this should reduce the number of overflowing trash cans.
(Liz Homan, School Superintendent) Ms. Homan joined the meeting to answer questions about the school's capital expenses. The school department intended to use revolving funds to pay for repairs to the Brackett school playground. Regarding the Pierce classrooms, that will be a turnover of space. An area that used to be a daycare will be reconfigured as a classroom. It's just a reconfiguration of space.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe motions to terminate debate.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 189--31--3.
Capital Budget passes, 222--3--2.
Article 53 - Financing of Construction of Sewers and Sewerage Facilities
This article involves borrowing $800k to spend on sewer system maintenance.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that Article 53 and Article 54 are similar articles that we vote on every town meeting. They allow the town to get interest-free loans to maintain the water and sewer systems. These loans are repaid via the Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund.
(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson says she pulled Article 53 from the consent agenda in order to raise awareness of sanitary sewer lines. She says that Arlington has old sewer lines which allow groundwater to enter, particularly when it rains. This additional flow can create capacity problems, which leads to untreated discharges in the Alewife Brook.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says his questions apply to both article 53 and 54. He asks if these can be answered in the context of both articles, so he doesn't need to ask them twice. Mr. Leone asks how many miles or feet of pipe these articles cover.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says it's one mile of pipe on the water system side. For sewers, Arlington has set up a program that divides the town into thirteen sections, and we perform maintenance on one section per year. The sections are chosen based on know issues and line inspections.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks how long it would take to replace the entire system.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says there are 130 miles of water lines. At the rate of 1 mile/year, it would take 130 years to replace the entire system. He'd like to move to 2 miles/year at some point, because he feels that a 65 year old water system is better than one that's 130 years old. On the sewer side, the work is done via annual inspections and maintenance.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks if the amount of money we're spending is adequate.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says we'd need much more money to replace two miles of water lines per year. The cost of sewer maintenance is coming down, because we've completed a full thirteen-year cycle.
(Caroline Murray) Ms. Murray moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 209--11-3.
Article passes, 223--0--0.
Article 54 - Financing and Construction of Water Mains and Water Facilities
This article involves borrowing of $1.3M for municipal water line replacement.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says that several people in his precinct have written to him about discrepancies in their water bill. Some show up as using no water at all. He asks why that is.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the public works department does see irregularities in water usage from time to time. They usually try to contact affected residents when this happens. Mr. Rademacher notes that we are also in the process of replacing residential water meters.
Article passes, 218--0--0.
Article 57 - Town Celebrations and Events
This article involves a $15k appropriation, to be spent on town celebrations and events.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says this article is for celebrations and honorifics that we usually have. There's nothing unusual here.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner wants to say two things. First, town day is a commemoration of Uncle Sam. Second, we used to have a fireworks display at town day, and he hopes we can do that again.
Article passes, 218--1--0.
Article 60 - Bluebikes
Article 60 involves an appropriation of $100k to keep the Bluebike's service in town for another two years. Use of the service will be re-evaluated at that point.
(Annie Lacourt, Finance Committee) Ms. Lacourt says that the majority of the finance committee felt this was an appropriate investment. She says this is a request to subsidize the Bluebikes stations for two years, and not an permanent, recurring expense.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says there's no shame in failure. Lime Bikes exited the Boston market, and Mr. Kaepplein believes that Bluebikes won't be a sustained venture. Now, we're coming back to the well for $100k. He thinks the town should cut its losses, sell the stations, and switch to e-bikes. Mr. Kaepplein believes that bicycles offer no accommodations for disabled individuals, and he sent an email to town meeting members to this effect. He thinks there are plenty of other ways to spend $100k. He says there's funny stuff going on with the federal government, and CMAC is for transportation that replaces fueled transportation. He thinks that blue bikes are mostly used for recreation. The original Minuteman bikeway was fantastic, but we're getting further afield. He hopes we can cut our losses. He thinks that bikes will become less popular over time and asks town meeting to vote no.
(Adam MacNeil) Mr. MacNeil is a member of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (ABAC). ABAC had a long discussion about this, and he thinks it's misleading to consider this money a subsidy. The money goes towards maintaining the bikes and stations, and Bluebikes does not make a profit. It's payment for services rendered. Is the program useful? Mr. MacNeil thinks so. Last year, Arlington averaged 1.3 rides per bike per day, which was an increase over the prior year. Lots of these rides start or end in other communities. In two years, we'll re-evaluate our participation in this program. He thinks there's a fundamental difference between Lime Bikes and Bluebikes, which has been around for over ten years. It's a good social benefit and not a waste of money. It's a service that's being provided to the town.
(Janice Weber, Point of Order) Ms. Weber would like to make a motion to adjourn.
Notices of Reconsideration
Charlie Foskett asks for a motion of reconsideration on Article 50, 51, 53, 54, and 57.