Friday, July 30, 1999
Officials exchange updates at all-board pow-wow
The aura of civic responsibility shone brightly in the Clark Room on July 13 as representatives from most of the town's boards and departments gathered with the selectmen to highlight their goals, and provide updates on what they have been doing this past fiscal year. Board of selectmen chair Doug Stevenson stated that the selectmen's purpose for calling the meeting was to enhance communication among town boards and committees, but planning board member Kate Reid captured the essence of the gathering by likening it to the annual meeting of a corporation. "We are all working for the same company and have the same ends," she said.
While many of the topics discussed at the meeting were familiar, the passion with which some concerns were voiced was particularly noteworthy. The need for financial coordination and concerns about rapid growth have been heard before, but many boards now seem to be rallying around a hitherto soft-spoken plea for the need for more senior housing.
Stevenson summarized the major accomplishments of the selectmen. The board closed on the first part of the Wang-Coombs property, formed a cell tower advisory committee, informally formed a financial team to deal with financial matters, coordinated survival plans with the Y2K committee and started two major construction projectsthe town center sidewalk and the Gleason Library renovation.
Town clerk and accountant Sarah Andreassen then reported that she is looking forward to the next phase of upgrades of the town computers. Noting that next spring there will be a presidential primary election, she is investigating how to solve the parking problems encountered at Town Hall during the last major election. Andreassen also took the opportunity to notify the assembly of public servants that new regulations concluded that e-mail messages to one another are public records.
Town treasurer Nancy Koerner happily reported that, given the town's recent computer upgrades, the treasurer's office is now fully networked so that each member of the staff can answer taxpayers' questions from any workstation. Koerner also pointed out that there was almost a disaster in funding the Wang-Coombs acquisition. Because the town could not borrow the purchase money before July 1, the first day of the fiscal year and the date of the real estate transfer, four wire transfers were required in one day. The transfers all happened but Koerner suggested, "We should give ourselves a little more leeway in the future."
Selectman Michael Fitzgerald asked about feedback from the investment community regarding the level of the town's debt. Koerner responded that Moody's, the firm that assigns the rating of the town's bond issues, believes that Carlisle is committed to town improvements but is concerned that there is no safety net in the event of an economic crisis. Noting that free cash is at an all-time low and that there is very little in the stabilization account, Koerner advised that the town make some progress in this area. "We're buying, buying, buying, and we're not saving. We're not putting anything away for a rainy day."
With respect to the debt, Koerner reported that, with approximately $13 million in debt (including Wang-Coombs and the Gleason renovation), the town is well below the legal limit of $32 million. Debt service payments of $1.7 million, however, are slightly over the recommended level of ten percent of the town budget, added Koerner.
Finance committee chair Tony Allison sounded upbeat about facing the challenges of the coming fiscal year. Allison reported that the number one goal of the FinCom, which Allison described as a "feisty" group, is to enhance communication with the selectmen and town employees, and to work hard to avoid any embarrassment at Town Meeting. The committee has already assigned liaisons to other committees and sent memos to town departments which ran over budget last year. The FinCom's second priority, according to Allison, is to close town's books on time and stick to the financial timetable prepared by town administrator David DeManche.
At the end of Allison's presentation, Koerner spoke up again. "We need a financial director," she said. "As the town grows larger, one person can't pull everything together."
Calls for senior housing
Selectman Burt Rubenstein reported on behalf of the school committee. The biggest concern is space, said Rubenstein. The school expects to need to reclaim all space on the campus not currently in use as classrooms. Rubenstein anticipates, with current enrollment projections, that there is a two-year buffer before all the space is used and off-campus space or portable classrooms will need to be considered.
Selectman Vivian Chaput responded, "How do we get more senior housing?" If property is going to be developed, she asked, how does the town make it more desirable to get what the town needs? "How do we make the senior residential open space community [bylaw] more user-friendly?" At this point, housing authority chair Marty Galligan reported that he had been approached by a developer interested in exploring the possibility of combining the old Saint Irene property on Bedford Road with the Carlisle Village senior housing complex. Chaput urged Galligan to pursue this line of inquiry.
Galligan summarized the efforts of the housing authority over the past year. Their main focus is evaluating the Conant Land for a possible 12-unit affordable housing development, but the authority is also trying to locate other parcels around town for similar small developments. Galligan admitted that they are not very far along on other projects, other than identifying which parcels may become available. "We don't have enough manpower to do two projects next year," said Galligan. Reid suggested that Galligan attend the planning board hearings on East Riding Drive because developer Bill Costello has suggested possibly donating a parcel for affordable housing.
Lenny Johnson of the long-term capital requirements committee stated that the committee also endorses the concept of senior housing. "Having more senior housing will help with school enrollment pressures, but also address a town need," said Johnson.
Johnson then summarized the town's recent capital projects. This past spring, voters approved the new pumper truck, the next phase of upgrading the town's computers and some significant school maintenance projects. With respect to the latter, Johnson stated that the school maintenance is part of a five-year plan, as was stated in the Warrant, and Johnson hopes that the suggested expenditures will be approved again next year.
Representing the planning board, Reid stated briefly that the board has been happy with the conceptual plan incorporated in the new bylaws. The concept has allowed the board to work with developers to come up with creative solutions at an early stage in a project, she said. The planning board is also trying to improve communication with other boards, "so we don't bounce developers back and forth." Fitzgerald asked Reid if any large parcels were rumored to be coming on the market, to which Reid responded, "If they are, I don't know about them."
Rubenstein mentioned that the municipal land committee is considering a proposal to place conservation restrictions on a large parcel adjoining Great Brook Farm. The state, which would benefit from these restrictions, is also involved in these negotiations and is being asked to shoulder some of the cost.
Speaking for the zoning board of appeals, associate member Hal Sauer reported that the board is particularly interested in two topics during the coming year. First, the board awaits the recommendations of the wireless communications facility advisory committee about possible improvements to the existing cell tower bylaw, administered by the board of appeals. Second, the board was disappointed that the town did not provide any direction on interpreting the existing bylaw on expansion of nonconforming houses and hopes to propose a new clarification for the next Town Meeting.
Other board reports
Board of health chair Steve Opolski reported that most underground oil storage tanks have been removed according to regulations. He also said that two cases of Lyme disease have been confirmed, which means that there is an epidemic in this area.
Chair JoRita Jordan stated that the conservation commission's biggest project this past year was the Greenough property lease proposal. The ConsCom also has been working with the trails committee to establish a path near Aberdeen Drive, and with Kathy Coyle to certify vernal pools, and with Betsy Fell and Susan Emmons to update the open space and recreation plan. Jordan reminded the selectmen that the ConsCom needs two more members.
Both the board of health and the conservation commission expressed concern about the inequities in pay scales of staff. Stevenson responded that the wage classification study approved at Town Meeting was intended to solve this problem and that employees should be aware that the town is in a transition period. With respect to concerns about the town computer networking, DeManche informed Opolski that, due to budget constraints, the upgrades affecting remaining town departments are expected to be phased in next year. Recreation commission chair Carol Peters stated that the commission has had a very good year. "The Banta-Davis playing fields should have been completed by now," said Peters, "but there is no electric connection to power the irrigation system. We can't seed until we have water." She added that RecCom members recently held a walk-through of the project with the contractor to identify areas not up to specification. The toddler playground is complete and in use, reported Peters, and the gazebo will be constructed next. "Kudos to the toddler playground committee," she said. Town resident Jan Deyoe has also been hired as a part-time recreation director. The RecCom's plans for the future include pursuing liaisons with other committees to find other land for recreation purposes and fundraising for programs such as a portable ice skating rink on Spalding Field.
Bicycle and pedestrian safety committee chair Deb Belanger reported recent progress on the committee's long-range goal of having pathways along the five major roadways in town. The initial segment in the town center is complete and the committee is now working on the pathway from the school along Bedford Road to Kimball Farm Ice Cream. The committee is seeking Chapter 90 funds but is also pursuing other state and federal funds. The first step toward the long-range plan is to prepare a feasibility study, said Belanger, which, among other things, would eliminate topographically unsuitable roads and those too expensive to develop. At this point, Chaput gave a heads-up to the long-term capital requirements committee, saying, "Keep this project on your radar screen because the town may need to pay for part of this project." Belanger predicted that the feasibility study would likely be the first budget item requested.
Terry Chapman of the youth commission reported that her group sponsors the Friday Night Live evenings for middle school students. In addition, the commission is considering expanding their role to offer more opportunities to get middle school students involved in the community.
Paul Gill, wearing two hats, reported that the cable television surveys showed that the town wants both better cable service and high-speed Internet service, which is "still a good way off." With respect to wireless communications facilities, Gill reported that the cell tower advisory committee is updating the existing bylaw and has recommended that the town reject recent proposals for construction of cell towers on town land.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito