Friday, May 14, 1999
Five ballot questions allow voters to decide on funding issues
For the three-tiered operating budget override request, the question for the highest dollar amount which garners a majority will prevail. Question 1a includes the sums referred to at Town Meetings as levels 1, 2 and 3; Question 1b includes levels 1 and 2; and Question 1c includes level 1. The override amount will become part of the tax base upon which future taxes are calculated, permanently increasing the levy limit.
The recently approved balanced budget will result in an estimated $292 tax increase for a home with an assessed value of $400,000. For a $400,000 home, approval of Question 1a would mean an additional $220; 1b would mean $200 and 1c $112, according to figures provided by FinCom chair Charlie Parker.
Question 1c for $190,340, which has the support of the selectmen, FinCom and Town Meeting, forms the lowest level of the pyramid question and includes the following requests.
· Under property and protection, $24,949 is primarily to make communications department salary levels more competitive.
· Under the board of health, $4,930 is for secretarial support.
· Under Carlisle Public Schools, $53,987 includes funding for items throughout the budget, such as contractual obligations, special education services, needs related to five percent enrollment increase and funding for programs currently supported by grants, such as a half-time guidance counselor, a nurse and part-time kindergarten program.
· Under Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, the override amount is $36,579. This is the first year there has been an operating budget override request for Concord-Carlisle High School. The increase in the high school budget is in the following areas: 40 percent for contractual salary raises and new textbooks; 34 percent for rising special education costs due to more students moving from the middle schools to the high school; 21 percent for additional teachers due to increasing enrollments, a Chinese language program, a part-time guidance/teen counselor and a part-time teacher to administer a new technology grant; and 5 percent for MCAS test remedial instruction and staff development. Concord taxpayers did not have to vote on an override request for its share of the budget.
· Under the general government, the $36,282 includes $25,811 for the new town counsel and related expenses; $758 for the town clerk's budget for part-time wages, meetings and supplies; $9,019 for facility maintenance, computer maintenance and telephone expenses; $693 for planning board clerical support.
· Under recreation, $10,000 is for additional maintenance costs associated with the new playing fields on the Banta-Davis Land.
· Under the Norfolk Agricultural School, $5,000 is for additional funding for the education and transportation for a student expected to attend school there.
· The sum of $13,613 would allow officials to continue the state-mandated clean-up of the department of public works site on Lowell Street. Some of the clean-up has been completed but the additional costs are estimated at $46,000. Most of the plan will be implemented this fiscal year and paid for from the FY99 contingency fund, leaving the remaining $13,613 for next year.
· The sum of $5,000 is a portion of the funding to upgrade the computer systems for the accounting, assessors' and collector's office.
Question 1b for $339,362, includes the items in Question 1c as well as funding for the following projects which were all supported by the finance committee, selectmen and Town Meeting, except the wage study which was not supported by the finance committee.
· Under the Carlisle Public School, $66,522 includes funding for a half-time choral music teacher to expand the middle school program, a half-time foreign language teacher to begin an elementary program and educational equipment; the balance of these funds as well as $22,500 under the long-term capital requests will be for campus maintenance that would cover boiler repairs, some exterior painting and Corey Building locker room and gym refurbishing.
· Under long-term capital expenditures, $10,000 is for air conditioning in the police station patrolmen work areas. This has been a request for years because policemen must wear bullet-proof vests at all times making it very uncomfortable during warm weather.
· The sum of $5,000 is additional funding to upgrade the computer systems for the accounting, assessors' and collector's office.
· The sum of $30,000 is for the first phase of a plan to use engineering and consulting services to evaluate the O'Rourke Land and determine the best location for a potential water supply. If successful, the second phase may not be necessary. Under the agreement with U. S. Fish and Wildlife, the town will receive $115,000 if the site is on a non-developable parcel.
· Although not supported by FinCom, the $15,000 request from the personnel committee for a comparative wage study was approved by Town Meeting voters. It is to be a one-time report to revise job descriptions and set wage ranges within each classification. The board wants to address equity issues among non-union employees and one voter commented it would avoid the demand for more unions. School personnel are not included as they are under the direction of the school committee.
Question 1a specifies an amount of $445,862, an amount by which the levy limit will be raised for the future if the question passes. However, since Town Meeting did not approve the $53,500 request from the Carlisle School to supplement user fees and $18,000 for a new compactor at the transfer station, the amount to be assessed is $374,362.
The finance committee and selectmen did not approve this level of funding. In addition to the items in Questions 1b and 1c, Town Meeting approved the following items in 1a.
· Under recreation, $25,000 is for a half-time director. At Town Meeting, RecCom chair Carol Peters said the commission keeps kids off the streets and provides summer jobs for teens. With programs of many varieties for people of all ages, she said the programs "build community and bring people together." The commission handles 1,800 registrations and $120,000 in fees annually. The work load includes recruiting, hiring, payroll, bills and overseeing the welfare of over 100 children. Peters said that raising fees to cover the cost for a director would lower enrollments and jeopardize the program. The personnel board supported this request.
· The sum of $10,000 is for the proposed toddler playground at Diment Park. Committee member Sharyl Stropkay pointed out that there were 300 children in town under the age of five. The committee has already raised $27,000 towards the project and Stropkay thanked the community for their generosity in this regard. The playground equipment is scheduled to be delivered on June 6. The town funding would provide a fence and maintenance. There were numerous comments from the audience, parents, grandparents and those without children, who said "we need a playground, "and it could be viewed as " an investment in social and physical health which could prevent isolation and alienation."
Question 2 Conservation Fund
Passed nearly unanimously at Town Meeting, Question 2 would allot $100,000 to the Conservation Fund to be used for research, surveying, property appraisal, deposits and assistance to landowners wishing to put land under conservation restrictions. The question was added to the ballot when the $5 million serial bonding proposal for land acquisition was dropped from the Warrant. That decision left the town with no financial capability to assess land values, work with landowners or hold tracts coming out of chapters 61 or 61A for subsequent town action. The fund, which was set up under state law in 1969, is the only method by which towns can hold money in an account for such purposes.
Some opposition was voiced at Town Meeting owing to the fact that money placed in the fund cannot be used to acquire land for purposes other than conservation and passive recreation. However, conservation commissioner and municipal land committee member Christine Bopardikar observed that although the commission could not use the funds to acquire non-conservation land, it could use them to negotiate with governmental agencies and non-profit organizations, such as the land trust.
Selectman Vivian Chaput explained the importance of funding to encourage landowners to put deed restrictions on their property. "Conservation restrictions limit development without having to buy land," she advised.
An attempt by resident Terry Herndon to reduce the funding to $50,000 was defeated after ConsCom member Steven Hinton described the town's need to be able to act simultaneously on more than one parcel. The question is supported by the selectmen, the finance committee and ConsCom. The estimated tax impact for a $400,000 home would be $60. Approval of this question would permanently raise the levy limit.
Question 3 - Pumper truck
Question 3 asks voters if they are willing to exempt from the limits imposed by Proposition 2-1/2, the amounts required to pay for the bond issued to purchase the $304,000 pumper truck for the Carlisle Fire Department. Article 12 at Town Meeting clearly received the necessary two-thirds vote of approval, 258-1.
At the Town Meeting when fire chief Bob Koning was asked if this expense could be deferred for one year, he said he had already spent $10,000 this year to keep the current vehicle going. Koning thanked the audience in advance for their support, acknowledging it was a "big expense." It was because of such support that the town was able to maintain "call status," he noted, "and Carlisle is the last town inside of [Route] 495 to do that."
The new fire engine actually costs $329,000, but Koning expects to receive $25,000 when he trades in the old truck. The finance committee, selectmen and long-term capital requirements committee support this request. The tax impact for a $400,000 home would be $24 decreasing to $12 over 15 years.
Question 4 - Wang-Coombs land
Voters at Town Meeting having given a resounding 329 to 5 nod of approval for purchase of the Wang-Coombs land, a majority vote at the polls on May 18 is all that is required to complete of the transaction. Under the terms passed Wednesday night, the voters will be asked for approval to bond $2,150,000 to acquire 32 acres (ten lots). The gross price is $2,250,000 minus a $100,000 subsidy from the Carlisle Land Trust (CLT) and an anticipated $320,000 state agricultural grant, leaving a net purchase price of $1,830,000 and a per lot cost of $183,000. The remaining 11 acres (three lots) on the south side of Curve Street will be bought by CLT and subsequently sold for limited development to help match the $2,925,000 total purchase offer originally made to owner Juliette Wang by an Acton developer.
At the May 5 Town Meeting, the prime argument made in support of the purchase was for preservation of the open, rural character of Carlisle. Both the presenter Alex Parra and abutter Brigitte Senkler raised the specter of beautiful open vistas at the junction of two country roads transformed by 13 large houses and surrounded by eight-foot septic system mounds "blotting the landscape like so many beached whales."
Senkler, a realtor, also stressed a pocketbook issue. She pointed out that real estate values in Carlisle, which has historically voted to protect its rural aspect, have risen at a faster pace than in Acton and Westford, towns that came late to the preservation concept but still found their taxes rising sharply. She urged her fellow citizens, "If you want your real estate values to continue to go up, please vote yes."
The most numerous statements in opposition came from citizens concerned about the need for affordable housing. They were bothered by the fact that the land is to be used nearly exclusively for agricultural and conservation purposes when the town has other critical municipal land needs. In rebuttal, supporters indicated first, that it was too late for revamping the proposal, owing to the state-imposed June 30 deadline for closing the deal, and that in any case, the high water table which makes Wang-Coombs so ideal for agricultural purposes makes it equally problematic for more intense development. Conservation commissioner Steven Hinton added that the $320,000 state grant required that the bulk of the town's 32 acres be put into agricultural restriction.
The most exhaustively debated point concerned figures charted in a recently distributed analysis of the Growing Pains costs of development versus controlled growth by three former finance committee chairs, John Ballantine, Beth Hambleton and Nancy Pierce. Hambleton said that the revenue realized from taxing new homes does not cover the cost of the services they require, particularly in the area of education. Former selectman Ralph Anderson questioned the authors' arithmetic and presented a counter-analysis, which he maintained showed virtually the opposite outcome. He noted that turnovers, existing homes which were resold, contributed an equal number of new students, and rising taxes force older homeowners without children out of their homes.
Not persuaded, Hambleton challenged Anderson's conclusions and added that the largest potential cost down the road was seen to be new school construction. Urging the voters to adopt the limited development approach represented by Wang-Coombs, Hambleton described it as "one step we can take toward controlling what is within our
power to control."
Anderson concluded his presentation by raising an oft-stated concern that Wang-Coombs might not be the right purchase, and advised that financial resources be saved for other parcels that could be allocated to a broader range of municipal uses. With a nod to Anderson for "the effort he has put into his research," selectman Doug Stevenson noted that the selectmen made their decision to support Wang-Coombs well before the appearance of Growing Pains, and considered the purchase to be a commitment to the welfare of the town as a whole. "We recognize that controlling growth will not often allow us to purchase [land] under the market price."
Passage of Question 4 is recommended by the selectmen, FinCom and conservation commission. For a home assessed at $400,000, the annual projected tax impact for this purchase is $120 decreasing to $60 over 19 years.
Question 5 - School ventilation
Question 5 asks voters if they are willing to exempt from the limits imposed by Proposition 2-1/2 the amounts required to bond $153,700 to make repairs and improvements to the heating, ventilation, window and air quality equipment for the Wilkins and Robbins Buildings at the Carlisle Public School. Article 13 at Town Meeting clearly received the necessary two-thirds vote of approval, 280-6.
At Town Meeting, school building committee member Jeff Johnson pointed out that the two rooftop heating and ventilation units are 32 years old and replacement parts are not even available. New hardware in the second floor of the Robbins Buiding will allow the teachers to open the windows. The screens will provide the easiest and most efficient way to improve air quality by allowing teachers to open windows.
Of the $153,700 total, 60 percent is reimbursable from the state to make the net cost to the town $61,480. The school has not yet applied for reimbursement.
The FinCom, selectmen and long-term capital requirements committee have all recommended this expenditure. Since it could be years before the town receives reimbursement, the estimated tax impact for the full amount for a $400,000 home is $24 decreasing to $20 over the five-year period.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito