Vision 2020 All Precincts Meeting - Apr 12th, 2018

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The all precincts meeting was sponsored by Vision 2020, and held at Arlington Town Hall.

Annie LaCourt introduces the meeting. She reviews the warrant (aka, town meeting's agenda), public hearings for warrant articles, the town moderator, recommended actions, substitute motions, reconsideration, and how residents can speak at town meeting.

Next, three speakers give brief presentations of three warrant article.

Article 12, Betterment Bylaw Revisions (Joe Curro). Private ways make up a significant part of the town's roadways. There's a mechanism for major repairs to private ways, but nothing for minor repairs (like filling potholes). The article adds provisions for minor repairs, and clarifies when the town is an abutter for the purpose of this bylaw.

Article 19, Municipal Finance Department (Dean Carman). Arlington has four financial offices. Over the last three years, the town has moved to consolidate these offices under the direction of the town manager. This article would add a finance director (probably the assistant town manager). Numerous other towns have already done this.

Article 20, Renaming the Board of Selectmen to the Select Board (Clarissa Rowe, and a woman named Naomi, whose last name I didn't get). Around 60 towns have adopted gender-neutral names for their select boards, and Arlington should too. We want more women to run for these offices, and language matters.

Next, Adam Chapdelaine gives a budget overview presentation.

The town's fiscal year runs from July 1st to June 30th. We name budgets after the year the budget ends. So we are in FY18, and working on the budget for FY19.

Departments submit capital budget requests in September, and operating budget requests in November. The department budgets are combined into a town-wide budget book, which is distributed to the board of selectmen in January. January is also when the finance committee begins to meet and review the budget.

The town's financial plan is developed by March. The finance committee produces a report to town meeting in April. Town Meeting debates and votes on the budget in May.

The town has a structural deficit, which means that expenses are growing faster than revenue. This year, we have a $4M growth in receipts but a $6.4M growth in expenses. The biggest expense growth comes from education (general ed, special ed, increased enrollment). That's responsible for 3.15% annual expense growth. The town also sees increased expenses for health insurance and pensions. The town's structural deficit is $2.4M.

Most of the town's revenue growth comes from property taxes.

A few years ago, the town formed a five-year planning committee (aka the long-range planning committee). The town passed a budget override in 2005, and that carried us through 2011. We passed another override in 2011; at the time it was projected to carry us for three years, but will actually carry us until 2021.

The town has an override stabilization fund. Additional revenue goes into the override stabilization fund, and is drawn down to balance deficits.

Sandy Pooler does the next part of the presentation.

Property taxes are the biggest source of revenue for Arlington, and for every other city and town in the state.

The state passed proposition 2-1/2 in 1980. This law limits yearly property taxes increases to 2.5% per year. Proposition 2-1/2 forces budgets to be revenue driven; towns have to allocate spending based on projected revenues. Health insurance and inflation strain the 2.5% limit. Voters have to approve tax increases greater than 2.5% -- this is called an override.

Every city and town gets some amount of state aid. There are two types of state aid: unrestricted general aid and school aid.

During the last few years, Arlington's student population increased 25%, from 4000--5000. State aid has grown a little, but not enough to cover the additional costs.

In FY19, we'll have to take money out of the override stabilization fund.

Large expenditures for the town include the school budget, personnel costs, capital improvements (5% of each year's budget), pensions, insurance, and state assessments (e.g., the MBTA). The town has an emergency reserve fund for things like snow removal.

The town has a five-year plan for the overall budget. This allows the town to anticipate the effect of the structural deficit.

There are a number of budget resources on the town's website, in the budget and finance section. We have open checkbook, a visual budget, our annual finance report, audit results, financial committee reports, and so on.