Give the Municipal Facilities Committee its due (and maybe a break)

It’s not often that you’re questioned for failure to spend money, but that’s the strange position currently occupied by the Municipal Facilities Committee (MFC). An email from the Finance Committee (FinCom) scolded the MFC for not using the money it was allocated for 2019 (Carlisle Mosquito, December 2, 2018) and warned that lack of a comprehensive plan made the FinCom unlikely to fund any 2020 request “unless a comprehensive plan for facilities is forthcoming.” 

The Selectmen officially established the MFC two years ago (December, 2016). Subsequently, the five member committee worked with an architectural firm hired to assess the condition of town facilities and, armed with that assessment, created a list of projects, from urgent to low-hanging fruit to “it can wait but barely.” The architectural firm submitted its report in March 2017. The MFC, having digested the report and having discussed its implications, did due diligence: it toured every municipal building cited in the report and it talked to the relevant department heads.

In September, 2017, an MFC representative presented plans for a part-time Municipal Services Manager to the Personnel Board. In April, 2018, MFC made a laundry list and submitted Warrant article 13 for Town Meeting 2018, asking for $387K for building repairs and improvements. Town Meeting approved the article. 

Finding contractors to do the work proposed by the MFC fell to Town Administrator Tim Goddard, who is the procurement officer for the town. There were delays for which no one was to blame. Meantime, a part-time facilities manager’s position was posted, but no applications were received, because the hours were too few and the compensation too paltry. The position was recently reposted, with a larger hourly wage, and some candidates have come forward.

Perhaps there are some grey areas that still need to be refined. For example, does the MFC have spending rules and guidelines? What size project should require a separate Warrant Article vote, so that the funding is assigned to the project, not given to the committee? Does it make fiscal sense to ask for more money when you haven’t spent the original sum you were allocated?

It is not the MFC’s fault that we do not yet have a Facilities Manager. It is not the MFC’s fault that many repairs were deferred for so many years that radical repairs are now needed. The committee seems to be trying to make sure that the money allocated is spent wisely, not quickly. However, it is critical to the well-being of the town that the MFC and the FinCom understand each other better, that they meet jointly more often, and most importantly, that they work together to plan how Carlisle spends its money.  ∆