Town Meeting - May 8, 2019

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Sixth night of town meeting.

Article 58: Capital Budget. We continue discussion on the capital budget.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar states that two amendments to the article were not submitted within the 48-hour window for filing amendments.

The moderator agrees with Mr. Yontar. If town meeting postpones discussion of this article until Monday, the amendments can be included. Otherwise, the amendments will be disallowed. We'll hear what the amendments are first.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden presents her amendment. She'd like to take the DPW renovation out of the budget, until the Mill Brook Culvert is enlarged.

(Dave Levy) Mr. Levy presents his amendment. He notes that these capital projects are coming at the same time as the high school rebuild. He doesn't think we should make improvements to the Senior Center and DPW yard at the same time we're discussing the high school. He'd like to table these projects for two years. He claims the entire override will be eaten up by capital expenses, and delaying will let us get a better handle on the actual cost of the high school. He believes we should to more work on our commercial and industrial zoning. He's concerned that the town will over-leverage itself.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson states that the DPW and Senior center will be bonded; they won't be paid out of the operating budget. Mr. Jamieson asks a question about borrowing rescinded under budget item 1.

Charlie Foskett said the budget was written that way in order to be very explicit about borrowing rescissions, and where the unspent money is going. We'll use the unspent money to reduce the overall capital debt.

Mr. Jamieson asks what the town plans to do with the Mass Ave Building sale.

Mr. Foskett states the funds from a building sale can only be used to fund capital assets.

Mr. Jamieson notes that the capital budget includes a lot of trucks for the DPW.

Mr. Foskett states that DPW has a replacement schedule for their trucks.

Mr. Jamieson asks about $1.2M for voting equipment.

No one has an answer to this question.

Mr. Jamieson notes a $1.2M item for DPW planning. He hoped there'd be more information about the building by now. He's all for the new road.

(Greg Dennis) Mr. Dennis is happy that we're purchasing new voting machines. Our machines are old, difficult to fix, and likely suffer from security vulnerabilities. The machines run Windows XP, which Microsoft no longer supports. Mr. Dennis asks if the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office is providing any reimbursements for the new voting equipment.

Charlie Foskett isn't aware of any reimbursements.

Mr. Dennis asks if the new machines will be ready for the 2020 elections.

Yes, they'll be ready for the 2020 elections.

(Dan Dunn) Mr. Dunn wishes to address the signaling project at Lake Street. He asks if we have a problem, and if so, do we have a solution. There have been 14 crashes at the intersection of Lake Street and the Bikeway. During peak traffic periods, there can be 1300 vehicles/hour, and 250 bicycles/hour. The traffic is what causes backups on Lake Street. That's the problem; do we have a fix? This intersection is a highly-contested piece of real estate. Our Transportation Advisory Committee performed two studies of this intersection, and used traffic control officers to simulate the proposed signaling pattern. They observed increases in throughput, and better safety. Mr. Dunn believes this project is needed. We have 75% plans, and need funding to complete them.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett invites DPW head Mike Rademacher to speak.

Mr. Rademacher agrees that Mill Brook poses challenges. It floods every three years. The new DPW yard design will move critical operations to higher ground, but it will not solve Mill Brook's problems. Mill Brook flooding is a town-wide problem, and a larger culvert at the DPW site will only move the flooding downstream. Legally, we're not allowed to do this.

(Adam MacNeil) Mr. MacNeil is a member of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee. He's concerned that we'll eventually see a death at the Lake Street/Minuteman intersection. He thinks the signal improvements are very important.

(Bill Hayner) Mr. Hayner supports the traffic light, but he's concerned about cyclists running through it. He believes the light is necessary, but wants more enforcement of cyclist's traffic violations.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks if the override will affect the capital budget.

Charlie Foskett explains that we spend 5% of our non-exempt budget on capital improvements. For this reason, capital expenses cannot suck up the override.

(Andrew Fischer) Mr. Fischer asks how much of the high school playing field will be lost due to the new DPW site.

Adam Chapdelaine says the high school will gain one new practice field, because of the reconfiguration of the site.

(Alex Bilsky) Mr. Bilsky supports the capital budget. He lives half a mile from the bike path, and participated in the light design process. He's in favor of spending money on improvements to that intersection. He notes that the signal changes also cover the intersection of Lake Street and Brooks Avenue. The goal is to improve safety. He asks if the town will study the safety aspects after the project is complete.

Adam Chapdelaine says we'd do a reassessment, and make adjustments if necessary.

There's a motion to terminate, which passes on a 150--57 vote.

Varoglu amendment fails, 20--189.

Article passes, 198--14.

Charlie Foskett states that the capital planning committee and DPW will take a serious look at bikeway flooding.

Article 68: Community Preservation Fund. Eric Hellmuth presents. This article consists of three steps: (1) temporary transfer of funds (to meet the letter of the law, in the event that some projects are not approved), (2) project appropriations, and (3) funding the administrative budget.

Mr. Hellmuth provides an overview of this year's CPA projects. One project is the Whittemore park revitalization. The CPA funded a study, and over 600 people participated. The project will take place in three phases, over three years. The first phase will create a lawn, replace pathways, and remove the fencing that surrounds the park. Four failing trees will need to come down. We are only removing trees that the tree warden has designated for removal.

Two marker signs from the 1930s will be restored. We'll repair a crumbling stone wall in the old burial ground. We'll rehabilitate the Whittemore Robbins Cottage, so it can be used for youth counseling services. We'll develop a master plan for reservoir preservation, and make repairs to the North Union Playground. We'll begin to develop a bleacher restoration plan at Spy Pond, and make $500k of repairs to Winslow Towers.

(Beth Malofchik) Ms. Malofchik submitted an amendment to strike the Whittemore Park revitalization. She says she's here to speak about the tree canopy. The original plan involved removal of the old railroad tracks. She states that the park's tree canopy dominates the Cyrus Dallin museum building, and takes pause at the Select Board's efforts to urbanize the town. She's confused about who owns Uncle Sam park, and asks why the Whittemore Park plan makes no reference to Lexington Green or Concord Green. She believes that Samuel Whittemore was a tough guy, and that we're trying to create a town after we've paved it over. She feels that any town project should include climate resilience, and that trees are a natural resource. She states that Uncle Sam plaza is sun-baked, ever since the tree was taken town. She asks if any environmental studies have been done, and asks the town to take a year to figure out the project. She's not sure which trees the tree warden has identified for removal. She asks who owns the property, and what deed restrictions are in place.

Doug Heim states that the park consists of several parcels. The select board owns the portion where the park revitalization will take place. The Redevelopment Board also owns a portion of the park.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe rises in opposition to Ms. Malofchik's amendment. She feels that the current park was not designed well and doesn't work effectively. The new design is beautiful and well-done. Ms. Rowe says she's a landscape architect who plants hundreds of trees per year. Sometimes, trees have to be taken down, but they are a renewable resource.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman lives a block and half from the park, and says it's been underused for 20 years. This is a plan to make the park better. He states that voting down the park won't save the failing trees; they'll be taken down regardless.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay asks about the three phases of the park project.

This appropriation (using CPA funds) is for phase 1. We hope to pay for phase 2 using CDBG money. Phase 3 will come out of the capital budget.

He asks how much it will cost to take down the trees.

About $5--8k.

Mr. Tremblay says we're about to spend $300M on a high school, plus money for the DPW site, the Fox Library, and now we're spending $1.5M on a park. He asks if we could spend the money on some other park.

(Naomi Campbell) Ms. Campbell wants to speak about the Arlington reservoir project. She supports whatever we can do to make it a safer, cleaner place to swim. She hopes Spy Pond park could be improved in the future.

(Bill Berkowitz) Mr. Berkowitz wants to speak to the old burying ground project. He asks if any trees will be removed, and if so, how many.

Jim Feeney states that the work will follow the Old Burial Ground master plan. We'll remove smaller trees, scrub, and dying trees. Approximately 15--17 of the 57 trees in the Burial ground are scheduled for removal.

Mr. Berkowitz finds the old burial ground an attractive place. He hopes the general look doesn't change.

(Dave Levy) Mr. Levy asks if there will be a beer garden while the Whittemore Park is under construction.

Adam Chapdelaine says there are no plans to start construction this year. We could look at alternative sites for next year.

Mr. Levy asks if the town charges for weddings.

Jim Feeney says we've always charged for the use of town hall. We'll start charging for events that want exclusive use of the garden next to town hall.

(John Leonard) Mr. Leonard asks who determines if a tree dies from disease, or if it dies due to a gas leak.

The question is ruled out scope.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps thinks the park is a good plan. She feels that the CPA proposal should go forward, unamended. The original plan involved the removal of 13 trees. The tree warden came in and found that five were failing; one of the failing trees has already been removed. She notes that the plan will add nine trees to the park. She believes that too tight a tree canopy is not healthy, because it blocks light.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden wants to talk about 1984. Not the year, but the George Orwell novel. He says this article reminds him of Orwell's book, where a communist government tried to distort history. He believes that's what this project is. The railroad tracks are the only historic element of the project. They were built in 1846. To call this project "historic preservation" is a distortion. He supports Ms. Malofchik's amendment.

(Gordon Jamieson) Motions to terminate debate.

Malofchik amendment fails, 20--191.

Article passes, 199--15.

Article 35: Short-Term Rental Regulations. Diane Mahon calls Doug Heim to speak on this article, and Article 50 (Short Term Rental Impact Fees).

Mr. Heim explains that this article involves Chapter 337 of the Acts of 2018, which establishes a scheme for taxing and regulating short-term rentals. It applies to rentals that are not in a hotel, motel, or bed in breakfast, where reservations are made in advance for a period of less than 31 consecutive calendar days. The state requires registration of short-term rental properties, a 5.7% state tax, and $1M of liability coverage. The state law allows communities to institute a local occupancy tax, to establish community impact fees, and to establish local regulations.

There are eligibility requirements. These include: local registration, there cannot be affordability restrictions on the property, ADUs cannot be used for short-term rentals, and the property owner cannot have more than three complaints. Property owners who want to do short-term rentals must register with the Select Board, pay a $25 registration fee, and certify code compliance.

Operation of an illegal unit will be punishable by a fine of up to $300/day, and suspension from the short-term rental registry.

The Select Board will receive complaints about short-term rentals, and refer them to the appropriate department for enforcement.

Article 50 involves the assessment of impact fees. These fees will range from $3--30/night, which will go into the general fund. The money will be used for affordable housing or local infrastructure.

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore asks how an operator would certify compliance.

Mr. Heim states that the goal is to get the property owners talking with the applicable departments and boards, so they understand what is expected of them.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt asks if compliance certification will be based on an honor system.

Mr. Heim states that although we require registration, we're concerned about the workload that would be created by having departments inspect every unit.

Ms. LaCourt asks how we'll ensure compliance.

Mr. Heim states that we can't proactively reach out to property owners until the state's short-term rental registry is in place. The property owners will have to come before the Select Board, and the board will be able to set expectations.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse has rented a room through Air BnB for five years. She favors the regulation, but asks about the motivation for the 31-day limit. A third of her rentals are grandparents who stay for 5--6 weeks, or visiting college professors who stay for several weeks at a time.

Mr. Heim states that the 31-day limit comes from state law.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that property owners would need to certify compliance with Arlington's zoning bylaw. He asks how pre-existing non-conforming properties will be treated.

Mr. Heim says the intention is that the property owner can't have outstanding violations with inspectional services.

(Timur Yontar) Motion to terminate debate.

Article passes, 202--10.

Article 50: Short-Term Rental Impact Fees. (Peter Gast) Mr. Gast asks which option is in front of us: agent-operated, or owner-operated.

Doug Heim indicates that both options are in front of us.

Article passes, 202--12.

Article 36: Election Modernization Study Group. Diane Mahon presents. Ms. Mahon says this is an ambitious committee, with a fixed time frame and a specific charge. She expects a preliminary report in the fall, and a full report to town meeting next spring.

(Christa Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher presents an amendment. She was the citizen proponent of this article, and was glad to see the Select Board act favorably. She proposed this article for two reasons: to ensure that our election system functions effectively, and because she wants the town to lead.

Towns all over the United States are exploring ways to enhance our electoral system. Somerville has a task force which produced 16 recommendations. Study groups can bring best practices to the town. Ms. Kelleher's amendment seeks a small change to the study group's composition, which would increase the size of the committee from eleven to thirteen. And, town employees and committee members would serve as ex-officio members. She understands Mr. Moore's amendment, but believes that her amendment addresses the changes he's concerned about.

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore presents his amendment, which removes specific qualifications for committee membership. The believes the requirements in the article are too prescriptive, and that committee balance should be considered once applications are in.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman states that serving on the school committee is a time-consuming job. He's not happy about the idea of a school committee representative being an ex-officio member.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar asks if the committees scope will include things like distributing material, increasing turnout, and getting more people to run for office.

Diane Mahon hopes the committee would address all of these issues.

Mr. Yontar asks how people will be made aware of the committee positions.

Ms. Mahon says the positions will be advertised, as the town does with other committee openings.

Mr. Yontar wonders if we should try to reach a broader audience.

(Leslie Waxman) Ms. Waxman works for the elections division in the City of Cambridge. She notes that Cambridge has used ranked choice voting since 1941. People from all over the country call her office to ask about ranked choice voting; she's usually the one who gets to speak with them. Ms. Waxman supports the amendment to remove specific qualifications for committee membership.

(Angela Olszewski) Ms. Olszewski states that the League of Women Voters supports this article.

(Samantha Dutra) Motion to terminate debate.

Kelleher amendment passes, 109--84.

Moore Amendment passes, 152--47.

Article passes, 188--9.

Article 37: Remove Police Chief from Civil Service. Dan Dunn presents the article. Mr. Dunn notes that the Select Board voted 3--2 in favor of this article, but that Mr. DeCourcey would have voted against it if he'd been a board member at the time. Mr. Dunn believes that the civil service process is antiquated, broken, and in need of reform. Under Civil Service, the Town Manager has limited ability to influence the police chief. Our town manager has committed to hiring our next police chief internally, from the department. Mr. Dunn thinks we'd have a real problem if we had a bad police chief under civil service. This problem would be easier to fix if the police chief was a non-civil service position. Mr. Dunn notes that numerous Massachusetts towns have removed their Police Chief positions from civil service.

(Diane Mahon) Having the police chief be a civil service position is one of Ms. Mahon's core beliefs. These laws support merit principals, and protect against political influence. We made the police chief a civil service position at Chief Ryan's request. He believed this was necessary to give him the authority and autonomy to run his department. She things that we have highly-qualified candidates, and shouldn't need to relax qualifications for the sake of having a bigger applicant pool. Ms. Mahon notes that civil service requires exams, and continuing education.

(Bob Jefferson) Mr. Jefferson gives his time to Arlington resident Brian Gallagher, who wishes to speak on behalf of the Ranking Officers Association.

(Brian Gallagher) Mr. Gallagher urges town meeting to vote against this article. He believes that a civil service classification augments the chief's authority and autonomy. It provides continuity and credibility. The Arlington Police Department prides itself on being a professional police organization, which develops and nurtures leaders. Mr. Gallagher believes that department members are more than qualified to lead.

(John Maher) Mr. Maher supports removing the police chief from civil service. He was Arlington's town Council from 1974--2008. When we returned the police chief to civil service, our rationale was that civil service was a merit-based system. But civil service is not just an exam score. There are other factors. For example, applicants get bonus points for being veterans. Under state law, police chiefs can already negotiate termination conditions. With Chief Ryan retiring, the Town Manager should have unfettered discretion in choosing the most appropriate candidate. He urges support of the recommended action.

Town meeting adjourns for the evening.