Town Meeting - May 2nd, 2018
The evening starts with a special town meeting, and then returns to the regular town meeting.
The Thompson third graders have their own annual town meeting coming up.
A town meeting member makes plug for the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
A member of the human rights commission was stunned to see anti-gay graffiti and a swastika painted on Arlington High School. She reported it to the town, and many groups responded. We believe that a group of approximately 11 kids painted the graffiti, and vandalized the school. These hateful words are despicable and disgusting. We strive to be a welcoming community. If you see graffiti like this, please take a picture and share it with the Human Rights Commission. Please commit to being an upstander rather than a bystander.
The Rainbow Commission submits their report to town meeting. The commission member notes that there is a vacancy in the group. She'd also like to speak to hate speech and graffiti. The timing of the high school vandalism is poignant; it comes right around time of a presentation on hate symbols. Anti-queer hatred runs deep and is passed from generation to generation. To wit, there will be a ballot question in November as to whether Massachusetts should strip protections afforded to transgender individuals. If you'd like to discuss these issues, please attend one of the Rainbow Commission meetings. The rainbow commission has seven members, and held their first meeting this month. In the coming year, the commission plans to develop a mission statement and a five-year plan. We hope to organize educational events, and to HIV testing.
The Board of selectmen submits their report for special town meeting (they're reporting recommended motions on several STM articles).
Adam Chapdelaine talks about the High School rebuild plans. A nineteen-member committee is studying the high school rebuild. We've held a number of public forums on the redesign. Our architects provided eight conceptual designs (basic form and massing), and we've selected four of these to work with. These four designs were submitted to the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Association). The committee has more architectural planning work to do, and will select one primary design in July. The design should be finalized by Spring of 2020, with plans to start construction in Fall 2020. Construction will take 2--4 years. The current (rough) estimate of project costs is in the $200--300M range, which is in line with high school rebuilds in neighboring communities.
The special town meeting recesses, and we're back to regular town meeting.
Article 29: Town Budgets. We pick up from where Monday night's budget debate left off.
Question: There's a $1M year-over-year change in expenses. Is that due to revolving funds?
Yes. In the past, full-time salaries were paid out of revolving funds. Now, they're paid out of an enterprise fund.
Comment: I've very happy with the responses I've received to questions about the budget. I believe the town is acting as prudent stewards of our tax dollars.
Comment: I echo the previous speaker's compliments.
Ed Burns Arena
There's a question about staffing changes, involving clerks and typists.
The recreational department director notes a mistake in the finance committee report, and offers an administrative correction.
There are no more budgets to discuss, so we take a vote.
Article passes, 197--1.
Article 35: Appropriations/Committees and Commissions.
Question: The Arts and Cultural Commission has a larger budget than other commissions. Can someone explain this?
There was an increase from $25--40k, to better support the commission. A significant piece of this will go towards creation of a new website, along with grants and programs. $15k is set aside to implement the cultural district.
(John Leonard) Question: There's a new sentence in the main motion for this article, which hasn't appeared in previous years: "All consultant services shall be supervised under the direction of the town manager". Mr. Leonard offers a substitute motion to delete this sentence.
(Adam Chapdelaine) The language was added because they felt that the town manager's office could do a more thorough job than a commission of volunteers.
(Charlie Foskett) The finance committee felt that consultants would be better managed by a town office.
Leonard motion fails 15--187.
Article passes, 196--6.
Article 42: Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust Fund.
(Annie LaCourt) For the new town meeting members, can we explain what OPEB and Free Cash are?
OPEB refers to post-employment health care benefits. The town sets money aside into a trust fund, strictly for health care costs. We try to do this on a schedule, but the state doesn't require it.
Free Cash, as they say in municipal finance, is neither free nor cash. It's undesignated, unencumbered funds that are left over at the end of they year.
Article passes, 202--0.
Article 45: Use of Free Cash. Article 45 instructs the treasurer to use free cash in determination of the tax rate. This year's free cash is about $4.5M.
Article passes, 199--0
Article 46: Long Term Stabilization Fund. Article 46 puts $100k into the Long Term Stabilization Fund.
Article passes, 201--1.
Article 47: Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund. Article 47 draws from the Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund, established during the 2005 town meeting. This year, we'd take $2.6M from the fund.
There's an amendment to the amount, to reflect a recent change in funding from the state's Ways and Means committee.
Article passes, 204--0.
Article 27: Collective Bargaining. Article 27 is to fund fiscal commitments that arise from collective bargaining agreements.
Adam Chapdelaine informs us that most of the collection bargaining agreements have concluded. The remaining agreements will be taken up at a special town meeting this fall.
Article passes, 202--0.
The annual town meeting is dissolved. Now, back to the special town meeting.
STM Article 2: Extending Recreational Marijuana Moratorium. Article 2 will extend the town's moratorium on recreational marijuana establishments until December 31, 2018. The state's cannabis control commission didn't issue their guidance until March 9th of this year. That wasn't enough time to absorb the guidance, and propose legislation for this year's town meeting.
(Patricia Worden) The state guidelines are 107 pages of small print. We need time to study them, in order to prevent corruption. Mrs. Worden goes on for a while; she really doesn't like the idea of recreational marijuana.
Comment: The Chinese bureaucracy had a saying: no official business is urgent after three days. Washington follows this model by sending proposals to committee. Recreational marijuana is a very good example of the state trying to slow-roll regulation. Is the December 31st deadline workable? Has the town done any work to plan for recreational marijuana?
(Adam Chapdelaine) We're not starting from zero, and we do have a committee working on recreational marijuana. We have a pretty good sense of what's happening, and can hit the ground running with a recommendation this fall.
Comment: I don't think that pending legislation is a good reason to extend the moratorium.
Comment: We should not extend the moratorium. We had a moratorium on medical marijuana. That moratorium is over, and we still don't have a medical marijuana dispensary in town. I have two friends that avoided opioid addition because of medical marijuana. We're in debt and need to expand the tax base. I'd rather see us move forward in an expeditious manner.
Question: What happens if we vote down the moratorium?
If we don't zone for it, then we'll have no control over siteing.
Comment: It does seem prudent to take more time.
Article passes, 157--47.
STM Article 3: Study the Demolition of Historic Residential Buildings. Article 3 would direct the residential study group to study residential teardowns, and to recommend bylaw changes.
(Dan Dunn) Some teardowns have made neighborhoods happy, and others haven't. The challenge is figuring out how to write a rule that allows the good ones and prevents the bad ones.
(Jo Anne Preston) There have been seven tear downs in our neighborhood. Ms. Preston shows slides of two homes that were purchased and then demolished. Ms. Preston has three requests: (1) could we reduce the amount of time given to the study committee to do its work, (2) no one in the residential study group lives in an area that's affected by teardowns, and (3) can we do something about enforcement.
(John Worden) I support the recommended vote. Why has this taken so long? Many neighborhoods are affected. The wholesale demolition of houses is a tragedy. People say new houses are more energy efficient, but I disagree. Tearing down and rebuilding a house takes away 42 years of energy savings. Demolition delay is not the way to go. Instead, close the loopholes for large additions.
(Steve Revilak) I support the idea of referring the issue to the residential study group. I think teardowns are a second-order effect, which is to say, they happen because of other factors: the age of our housing stock, land values, economics, and exclusionary zoning. The median build year of our residential housing is 1939 -- that comes from the town's 2016 housing production plan. These houses are on the older side, and home have aged better than others. When a building reaches the end of its useful life, it has to be replaced.
A few nights ago, I asked the assessors about how they separate land and building values. The cost of housing in Arlington has gone up a lot, and in my observations, the primary driver is land values. For example, during the last five years, the assessed value of my house has increased about 25%, but the assessed value of my land has increased over 80%. During the selectmen's hearing on this article, there was lot of discussion about a property at 21 Hutchinson Avenue. During the last five years, that house's assessed value increased 2.5%, but the land value increased 54%. Our high housing costs are all about land values. I believe this has an impact on what gets rebuilt -- economically, it's more attractive to build a larger house. What a developer pays for land is a sunk cost; they pass it on, but don't make money on it.
And then there's exclusionary zoning. Arlington's zoning laws are exclusionary, which is to say, they were designed to keep people out. The 1975 recodification was very up-front about this. One of the characteristics of exclusionary zoning are dimensional regulations that limit the number of buildable lots. Arlington has become a desirable place to live, and that scarcity has driven up prices. There's nothing surprising about this.
I'd encourage the residential study group to approach this as a problem solving situation, rather than a confrontational one. That's really what negotiations are all about -- finding a way to make sure that what the other side gets is exactly what you want. (Note: I didn't say this during my remarks, but my point was to avoid a scenario where we try to get into a confrontational game of whack-a-mole. In my experience, the moles usually win).
(Len Karon) Len mentions that a number of his constituents are concerned about tear-downs, but that he is conscious of individuals property rights. He hope that town meeting's vote means that they consider teardowns a problem.
(Pat Hanlon) I live on Park Street, which is ground zero for infill development. I own one of these infill properties, and I'm very disappointed that people think so badly of them. I think that teardowns are a misconceived problem, and I think we'll be surprised at how much we don't know. The residential study group has the opportunity to really put the pieces together, and I'm looking forward to what they have to say.
Article passes, 192--9.
STM Article 4: Property Tax Deferrals. Article 4 is an attempt to provide property tax relief to seniors and people living on fixed incomes. The proposal would change the qualifying threshold from $57,000 to a higher amount.
Comment: I support the tax relief in this article, and I'll support the override because we need to rebuild our schools and fund the town. I want to help seniors and people on fixed incomes.
(Gordon Jameson) Could someone explain the $57,000 amount?
$57,000 is the current income threshold. We'd like to raise this, perhaps to $70,000. But we're still figuring out an exact amount. This is home rule legislation, and will have to be voted on by the state legislature.
Article passes, 191--2.
STM Article 5: Means Tested Senior Tax Relief. The selectmen voted no action on this article. They'd like it to be studied by the town manager, finance committee, and board of assessors.
No action recommendation passes by voice vote.
STM Article 6: Package Store Licenses. Article 6 would authorize the selectmen to file home rule legislation for additional package store licenses. The town currently has 5 licenses: two are in east Arlington, two are in the center, and one is in the heights. The new license would probably go to the heights.
The town often gets requests for additional liquor licenses.
(Eric Hellmuth) Question: Will the town be able to maintain the same level of underage compliance checks if we allow an additional outlet?
Chief Ryan says we'll have the resources to do so.
(John Worden) How many liquor stores do we need in this town? There are two liquor stores just over the Lexington line. People can go there. Plus, those stores have parking.
(Andrew Fisher) Could we add a "no nips" provision to the new license? Empty nip bottles get littered all over the place, and I'm constantly picking them up.
The selectmen are allowed to place conditions on licenses. We can look to see if any of the existing licenses have that restriction, and whether to impose it on a new license.
Question: Are the existing licenses all-alcohol? If we pass this, will there be changes to existing licenses?
All of the town's liquor licenses are all-alcohol. Existing licenses wouldn't change.
This is a three step process. First, town meeting has to approve it. Second, this is home rule legislation, so it has to go before the state legislature and they have to approve it. Third, it will go onto a ballot, and the voters have to approve it.
Comment: It seems ridiculous to have a liquor store in Arlington heights.
Article passes, 126--67.
STM Article 7: Bylaw Amendment/Gender Neutral Language. This amendment would replace gendered language in the town bylaws with gender neutral language. In short, the bylaws would stop referring to town officials as "he", "him", and "his".
(Charlie Foskett) I rise in opposition to this article, though I have nothing against the principle. I have two objections: (1) the cost of going through all of the town bylaws and changing them, and (2) the risk of accidentally making substantive changes. I'd rather see a resolution that all future bylaw changes be gender neutral.
(Annie LaCourt) I understand Mr. Foskett's objections, but I still think that language matters. It matters that all of the people referred to in these bylaws are men.
Comment: I commend the select board. I'm glad to hear an acknowledgment of the costs involved. Do we know how much this will cost?
Town Counsel Doug Heim responds. The town manager act is a fairly straightforward piece of legislation to update. The town bylaws are bigger, and will take longer to go through. It's not an undue burden, though.
Comment: I agree that the language makes a difference to people who aren't men, or who don't identify as men. I'm not worried about unintended consequences.
Comment: I don't like the term "Select Board", but I really abhor gendered pronouns in town bylaws. I urge your support on this article.
Comment: I'm an unabashed liberal curmudgeon. This article is long past due, and I hope you support it.
Article passes, 182--8.
That's the last article, so the special town meeting dissolves.