The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 18, 2000


Fiscal management, personnel issues and town growth prominent in selectmen's short- and long-term planning

The board of selectmen spent their July 11 meeting reviewing the town's short- and long-term goals, in preparation for exploring and setting priorities for the year. Board chair Michael Fitzgerald introduced this segment of the meeting as "a chance to brainstorm about where wethink the town should be headed, both short-term and long-term."

Short vs. long-term

Selectman John Ballantine suggestedan emphasis on the long-term "because we get accused all the time of focusing ontheshort-term." Defining the short-term as the next 12 to 18 months, Fitzgerald then askedfor thoughts on the financial state and organization of town government. Alluding to ageneral problem of crisis management, as evidenced by the FY00 moratorium onspending, and the difficulty in finding a long-term candidate to fill the position of townadministrator, Fitzgerald asked, "How do we fix what's not working?"

Ballantine ventured that crisis management is a problem because financially, "we don'tknowwhere we're at on a quarterly basis." Selectman Vivian Chaput added, "We've got to get the systemsworking," because difficulties with the new computer network are making itimpossible to accurately monitor town finances. Ballantine pointed out thatinterim town administrator Madonna McKenziehas been given the information and authority to spend money on the new networking system,ending a period during which work was delayed by confusion as to the agreementwiththe vendor.

Organizational review

"Our role should be policy-setting, with the department managers handling transactionalactivities. Are they empowered, and do we have the right organization in place?" askedFitzgerald. "I think we do," offered selectman Doug Stevenson. "The organization chart makessense.Now we need to define the positions and make sure we have the right people in them."

Fitzgerald then asked for an opinion on the town's organizational structure from MadonnaMcKenzie, who is familiar with how other towns are organized. "Structurally, you have a goodstart. Butit's been hard to see where everyone fits." McKenziethinks this needs to be communicated; "The structure is good, but noteveryoneis aware of it." She suggested that the organization chart be added to the policy book.

Talk then turned to how to re-energize the personnel board, which is attemptingtoimplement the recent wage and classification study's recommendations with a shortage of twomembers. There is a particular need for evaluations of town employees so thatmerit paycan be implemented.

"How do we market these positions?" Chaput asked. She thensuggested that perhaps there should be more support for the personnel board, inthe formof either a consultant or a staff position. McKenzie interjected that, as faras evaluationsare concerned, "the town administrator must also be the personnel administrator." This is a significant responsibility, requiring probably three to six hours perevaluation,"but I don't think anyone else can do it."

Fitzgerald suggested that the headsof allcommittees, including the personnel board, be invited to a future meetingtoreview their resources and responsibilities, and to discuss how they interact.

"Someone needs to lead"

The discussion of long-term needs began with town land use and the need for leadershipon this and related issues. Fitzgerald offered the opinion that programs, suchasaffordable housing, fail at Town Meeting because "there is no communication of long-term plans and no building a groundswell of support until the need isupon us. Someone needs to lead."

Agreeing that "we are transaction-oriented,"Ballantine suggested the pathways committee may be headed for similar trouble. "At the last meeting [of the bike/pedestrian pathways committee], they pulled out a plan forpathways in Carlisle from 1976!" Chaput added, shaking her head at the wasted time and energy.

Shethen suggested that the town re-introduce "community planning days." These wereSaturday morning meetings which used to take place in November, focusing on particulartown issues. Such meetings would have a presentation/discussion format, withtopicssuch as affordable housing, school needs, and others.

Ballantine summarized, "The waywe've done it up to now hasn't worked. A committee working alone gets up a headofsteam, then hits a brick wall. Our coalition-building is weak."

Affordable housing

Fitzgerald then suggested the selectmen take leadership on the issue of affordable housingby hosting a meeting of the housing authority, planning board, conservation commission and others todiscuss the next step. "I personally think this is a critical need," he said. Theboard explored several possible solutions, including a fund paid into by developers,a cooperativerelationship with a developer, and a program to get smaller properties in townlisted asaffordable.

"The problem is that this is seen [by townspeople] as a lower priority," saidBallantine. "That's because the threat [from a developer with a comprehensivepermit] hasnever been carried through," offered Stevenson. "To think the town is safe may be short-sighted,"Chaput said, pointing to Swanson Farm at the end of Rutland Street in Billerica,a newcomprehensive permit development of 240 units, "right on Carlisle's doorstep."

Limiting town growth

"We're becoming a one-sided, homogeneous community," Fitzgerald ventured. "Can wetake a breather on new development?" he wondered. According to Chaput, Carlisle's zoning, waterand septic system regulations are effective in limiting growth, but beyond that there are few tools. One such tool would be amoratorium on building permits, but this would be legal only if steps were taken to provideinfrastructurenot currently in place (i.e., a new school). It could also have the unintended effectof causingowners to rush lots into development in order to get under the deadline.

Expecting adeveloper to buy up land for town-approved affordable housing would introduce "such a riskand [require] huge investment, it is unlikely there would be takers," Chaput said.

Recreational needs

Discussion then turned to town services, such as a teen center, a center for the elderly, or other community facilities. Selectman Carol Peters cited a need for better planning for recreation; inparticular, apolicy for town use of school facilities, such as the gym or auditorium duringoff-hours,would expand town recreational offerings. According to Peters, the recreation commission can't afford thecosts to open the school, so the facilities sit unused.

Chaput expressed concern with "locking the town into long-term costs associated witha teen center or pool." Peters expressed the belief that a pool could be built and maintainedwith little expense to the town. "Concord's pool is paid for out of program fees,"she noted. Although people can go to pools in neighboring towns, "it's a nice way to bring thetownspeople together and be a community," said Peters.

Turning to long-term financial planning, Stevenson suggested that this might be a good timeto ask the finance committee, which is a "fresh group," to "look ahead at issues such asthe impactof growth on the school population and the impact on town finances of land acquisitions.We should have a five-year plan, updated yearly." Selectmen listed many factors negativelyaffecting town finances, including a limited tax base, many capital items, a desire by thetown to continue a large investment in schools and a low rate of state aid for educationdue to the town's affluence.

Chaput suggested greater emphasisbe put on locating grants for which Carlisle might be eligible, to offset somecosts of the proposed pathways plan, for example.

Involving townspeople

Fitzgerald wondered what to do about the near lack of a quorum the second day of TownMeeting. "We're not getting a full read of the community. How do we keep peopleinterested?" Chaput suggested that holding the meetings back to back was amistake. Ballantine added, "People contribute indifferent ways," not all of which include attending Town Meeting. Selectmen agreed to consultthe new town moderator for ideas.

Other issues

Other issues to be examined include the town center and its concerns (parking, water,traffic, etc.), school expansion, and relations with the school. Chaput voiced her opinionthat "the school committee was very responsive this year. The fee-for-servicesolution was very helpful to the town." Ballantine added, "We're in a much bettersituation now than five or six years ago regarding our dialogue with the school."

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito