Friday, May 7, 1999
TM approves Wang-Coombs and most money articles. Town Meeting to reconvene on May 11
Voters once again loosened their purse strings at this week's Town Meeting and approved expenditures requiring a total Proposition 2-1/2 override of $3,082,062, which includes purchase of the Wang-Coombs property for $2,150,000, a pumper truck for $304,000, school heating units for $153,700, conservation funds for $100,000 and an operating budget override of $374,362. The operating budget portion of the override includes $53,987 requested by the Carlisle Public Schools to maintain level services and an additional $66,522 for facilities maintenance and curriculum enhancements such a half-time choral music director and half-time elementary foreign language teacher.
Not only did cautionary words from finance committee chair Charlie Parker that "resources are not limitless" go largely unheeded, but voters also virtually ignored recommendations of the selectmen and FinCom, passing all but two items in the level three override.
After two full nights of debate which only covered 21 of the 36 articles, the meeting was adjourned and will reconvene on Tuesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. in the Corey Building.
Operating budget muddle
Financial confusion dominated the first night of Town Meeting as the FinCom offered six new pages of revised financial data, complete with errors and omissions, and last-minute changes to the motion to approve the balanced budget, eventually approved in the amount of $13,377,241.
Advance for affordable housing
On Tuesday night, the town also took a small but significant step toward increasing affordable housing by approving the housing authority's request for $30,000 for the purpose of planning and design of up to 12 units of affordable housing on the Conant Land. Housing authority chair Marty Galligan stressed the urgency of acting favorably on this article to show a good faith effort that the town is working toward meeting the state guideline of ten percent affordable housing. Developers may sidestep local zoning regulations through a comprehensive permit process in towns that do not meet this guideline. Selectman Vivian Chaput also voiced the board's approval of this article, "for Carlisle to control its own destiny."
The opposition to this article revolved not around the need for affordable housing but around the suitability of the Conant Land for this purpose. As town moderator Marshall Simonds noted, in his many years of being moderator, "There has been no use of the Conant Land that has not been controversial." Simonds would not, however, allow an amendment to remove the Conant Land from the article and give a more general direction to the housing authority to study all land for the purpose of building affordable housing.
Members of the audience suggested other approaches to increasing the town's stock of affordable housing, including giving tax incentives to owners of smaller homes and creating an escrow to purchase new property. Galligan welcomed these suggestions as the beginning of a town-wide dialogue, but said, "With comprehensive permits breathing down our neck we need to do something better this year."
Affordable housing kept coming up on Wednesday night in discussions of the Wang-Coombs property and the conservation fund. Townspeople generally wanted to broaden the purposes for which the town acquires property to include the possibility of using the land to build affordable housing. While Simonds said he expressed sympathy with the sentiments, the scope of neither Warrant article allowed any action on affordable housing.
Green light for Wang-Coombs
Alex Parra of the Carlisle Land Trust set the stage for the discussion of the Wang-Coombs property, approximately 43 acres of farmland off Curve and Fiske Streets, by showing the wide open vista currently seen on the property. Referring to the north parcel, Parra then said, "Imagine seven large houses on this field surrounded by mounded septic systems blotting the landscape like so many beached whales." The view would be similar on the south parcel, but with only six houses.
The Warrant proposal, explained Parra, called for the town to purchase ten building lots at a price of $2,250,000 (which was supported by an independent appraisal), less a subsidy of $100,000 from the Carlisle Land Trust to be obtained from the sale of the retained lots. According to Parra, the town has also already received a commitment for a $320,00 grant in exchange for placing a permanent agricultural preservation restriction on approximately 32 acres, for a net cost to the town of $1,830,000.
The selectmen, FinCom, conservation commission, municipal land committee and trails committee all endorsed this purchase. However, former selectmen Ralph Anderson initiated a prolonged debate when he said, "I don't believe this is a good deal for the town." Noting that the land will be restricted to agricultural use, Anderson stated that the property will not be available for other town needs such as schools or recreation. Anderson also questioned the strategy of buying property to stem growth.
Curve Street resident Brigitte Senkler expressed the majority opinion, saying, "When you come into Carlisle from Bedford or Westford you know you're in a different world. This didn't happen without sacrifices from this community."
Although it was not recommended by either the selectmen or the FinCom, the $25,000 budget item for a part-time director for the recreation commission was approved. Recreation commission director Carol Peters convinced those assembled that the RecCom program has outgrown its capacity to be run on a volunteer basis.
Similarly, Town Meeting voters also gave thumbs up to the $10,000 requested by the committee working on building a toddler playground at Diment Park, also not recommended by the selectmen or FinCom on the grounds of fiscal responsibility. Committee chair Sharyl Stropkay and project architect Debbie Bentley, who have already privately raised two-thirds of the total project costs, made a presentation that was hard to refuse. As one audience member said, "Carlisle needs a playground."
Because these items were categorized in the level three override, however, funding for both items is contingent on approval at the election of the level three override question on the ballot (1a). This question authorizes an increase in the levy limit large enough to cover payment of the two level three items not approved at Town Meeting ($53,500 for the Carlisle Public Schools primarily to reduce user fees and $18,000 for a new trash compactor at the transfer station).
According to selectman Michael Fitzgerald, if the level three override passes at the town election, the tax levy limit will be increased to the full amount of the level three override, but the town will not be allowed to assess taxes to pay for the disapproved items. If the level three override does not pass at the election, neither the RecCom director position or the toddler playground contribution will be funded.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito