Friday, May 11, 2001
Warrant reflects financial impact of town growth
Although no single issue is expected to dominate the Annual Town Meeting, starting next Monday, May 14, citizens will be asked to reach deep into their pockets to fund large school budgets, as well as some big ticket capital purchases, including a big new fire truck and a dumper/sander truck for the town. Rapid town growth has its costs.
No one will predict whether the generous mood evident at the Special Town Meeting on April 10, that passed a two percent tax surcharge to support a Community Preservation Fund for Carlisle, will continue. Next weeks Town Meeting will be an indicator of how the town will vote on Proposition 2-1/2 tax limit overrides, capital expenditures, and the Community Preservation Act tax levy at the Town Election the following week, on May 22, although surprises at the ballot box are always possible.
Twenty-four Warrant articles will be moved at the Annual Town Meeting. A brief summary of each article and the issues involved are presented below.
Article 3 - Transfers FY01
Since the Warrant book was printed, the FinCom has voted to recommend a transfer from the towns free cash
sand and salt, overtime and contractor services) and for this years snow and ice removal, expected to total more than $70,000 over the budgeted amount. Also recommended are transfers of $1,302 to cover additional wages for the current fiscal year, to various wage accounts, and $4,761 in funds collected for bus fees, to the Carlisle Public Schools.
Article 4 - Water study
This article asks the town to transfer unused funds intended for a water study on the ORourke Land for the location of a possible well site and make them available in FY02. This money is for some additional pump tests as well as for some revisions on contract documents prior to getting bids. The finance committee recommends transfer of $17,000 from FY01.
Articles 5 - Operating budget
This article appropriates funds to pay for the operation and debt service payments for the town for fiscal year 2002. The proposed budget would allow an increase of between 10% and 13.4% for education (depending on which, if any, ballot questions are approved by voters), and large additional amounts in costs for police and fire departments, for insurance (in pensions & benefits), and to operate the library. The total increase in spending of approximately $1.4 to $1.7 million would be offset by declines of about $287,000 in costs for long-term debt, for short-term interest, and assessments for vocational high schools (Minuteman and Norfolk Agricultural).
Also reducing the impact of this spending on property taxes for existing homes will be a promised $314,000 increase in state aid and an unprecedented $550,000 estimated additional revenues from property taxes for newly constructed homes, additions, newly developed parcels and other improvements (new growth).
The general government budget includes expenses for fiscal operations, general administration and the operation of two land use boards (Assessors and Planning Board). The overall increase of 6.8% includes a 25% increase in expenses for utilities and maintenance costs for the town hall, and an additional 16.6% for the planning board to increase salaries in response to last years wage and salary classification study.
Protection of persons & property
The overall increase of 8.5% for protection of persons & property includes an additional 7.9% to fulfill contractual obligations for the police, 17.6% to fulfill an agreement to raise pay for firefighter auxiliaries and to allow for more calls. Higher levels of building activity have prompted a rise of 10.9% in the budget for inspectional services, expected to be offset by increased revenues from fees (received as local receipts). The increase of 8.3% for the conservation commission is due to increased salary costs, again in response to the wage and salary revision following the classification study.
Board of health
The wage and salary classification revisions will also result in an increase of 21.5% in costs for the board of health.
The modest increase of 3.2% in the budget for the Department of Public Works is one of the few department budgets that comes close to meeting the finance committees original 3% guideline.
Will allow a 3% increase in the budgets of the council on aging and youth commission.
Large increases in budgets for the Carlise Public Schools (CPS) and Concord-Carlisle regional school district (CCRSD) will be offset by small reductions in the debt service for the high school and in the towns assessment for Minuteman Science & Technology High School, and the elimination of tuition for a student to attend Norfolk County Agricultural High School next year. These changes would result in a net increase for education expenses of 10.2% with no overrides, 13% if question 1b passes, and 13.4% if question 1a passes.
The increases allowed in the FinComs within the levy limit, no-override budget are 8.6% for the Carlisle Public Schools and 6.7% for CCHS. (The towns assessment for the high school would actually increase by 12%.)
As of last October, more Carlisle students (21, or 8.6% more) were enrolled at CCHS than the year before, raising the proportion of school expenses Carlisle has to pay from 26.5% this year to 27.7% for next year. (How much Concord and Carlisle each pay toward the high school expenses is determined in part by this assessment ratio, which fluctuates yearly depending on the relative headcount of students from each town.) This rise in the assessment ratio was compounded by an expected increase of 6.8% in total enrollment at the high school, meaning that not only will Carlisle have to pay a greater proportion of costs, but those costs will be higher next year.
If ballot question 1b is approved by voters, the FinCom recommends an additional $150,000 (total increase of 10.9%) for CPS, and $108,733 for the high school, which would result in 9.7% more for the total budget and 16% in the towns assessment for CCRSD. If either override question 1a or 1b passes, the school will be able to hire four grade six teaching assistants, a technology aide and a cafeteria/playground aide. All of these positions are needed to meet increasing enrollments.
According to the CCRSD, if question 1b does not pass, no adult and community education would be offered by the district, all co-curricular (extracurricular) activities and 60% of the districts funding support for interscholastic athletics would be eliminated.
If ballot question 1a is approved by voters, an additional $41,324 would raise the high school total budget by 10.8%, and the towns assessment by 16.4%. According to the CCRSD these additional funds would provide for software and hardware replacement, a computer lab supervisor position and information technology for the library, MCAS tutoring for juniors who fail one or more tests, teacher professional development, additional funds for music instruction, an intervention/prevention counselor, field trips and visits to colleges by guidance counselors.
This year it is likely that the two towns could approve different budgets for the high school, a difference that would have to be resolved by the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee, and could involve the first joint town meeting in the schools history.
Costs to operate the new Gleason building, which had been estimated for this first year, will raise the current library budget nearly 20%, or $37,500, next year.
Increased expenses for electricity and sprinkler system maintenance for playing fields will boost the recreation commission expenses by 12.2%.
Pensions & benefits
The cost of group, blanket and unemployment insurance for the town will rise nearly 25% next year. The cost for coverage has risen due to the new library building, and there has also been a jump in the cost of health insurance for town employees.
Last year the selectmen and treasurer agreed to bond as many approved projects as possible with short-term bond anticipation notes. This lowered the cost of short-term interest for next year by 56%, a savings of about $80,000 from this year and $200,000 from last years costs.
Long term debt
The budget for long-term debt is estimated to be a total of nearly $2 million, reduced 8% from last years payment. These payments will be offset about $701,000 in reimbursement from the School Building Assistance Bureau for borrowing for school and a $33,600 transfer from the stabilization fund. This results in a net decline of 16.9% in payments for debt already approved, and short-term interest payments will also be reduced (see Unclassified, above).
The estimate of $1,935,476 in this line does not reflect possible excluded debt payments for the purchase of a sander/dump truck at an estimated cost of $85,000 for the department of public works (article 13 and question 2), or $760,000 for a ladder truck for the fire department (article 14 and question 3). Also excluded are future costs for a new septic system for the school.
Article 6 - Capital equipment
Both the finance committee and the long term capital requirements committee recommend requested appropriations for capital equipment. The police and fire department have regular replacement requests (firearms, pagers and firefighter clothing). Police are also requesting a new cruiser at $25,000.
The fire department is requesting $35,000 to begin upgrading fire cisterns in town. Old 5,000 gallon cisterns will be replaced with new 20,000 gallon tanks. The fire chief hopes that the funds will be sufficient to upgrade two cisterns next year.
Public schools are requesting classroom computers at $25,000 and floor tiles for the Wilkins corridor at $26,000. The sum of $9,000 is requested for Carlisle Castle repairs.
An uninterruptable power supply is requested at $5,000. A compactor for public works at $20,000 and computers and other equipment for central government at another $20,000 complete the list of capital equipment requested.
Article 7 - Town audit
The $16,000 requested will cover expenses to audit the towns financial records.
Article 8 Road repair
The Department of Public Works is requesting funds for road repairs. According to DPW chief Gary Davis the department plans to repair all of Cross Street and sections of East Street, Indian Hill and Autumn Lane.
Article 9 - Stabilization fund
The FinCom has recommended that the approximately $330,000 now in the stabilization fund be reserved to reduce debt service on the purchase of the Hutchins and Robbins fields (formerly known as the Wang-Coombs land). These funds were received from the statefor agriculture.) The $33,614 transfer recommended represents the annual payment for principal and interest for $320,000 of the total debt for the Wang-Coombs purchase.
When a newly developed town-owned lot in the Carriage Way subdivision is sold, additional funds will be deposited in the stabilization fund. This property has been appraised at $460,000.
Article 10 - Revolving fund
The town receives fees from citizens designated for particular purposes or services (i.e. transfer station fees used for hazardous waste collection). Prior Town Meetings have established revolving funds, which set these receipts aside to be spent only for those purposes. This article will re-authorize several of these funds, whose uses are listed in the article.
Article 11 N.E.M.L.E.C.
The finance committee supports the $8,000 request by the police department to join the Northeast Middlesex Law Enforcement Council. NEMLEC is a 20-community police cooperative providing support for unusual circumstances requiring special expertise or extra personnel.
Article 12 ADA compliance
Funds are requested for improving handicap access at the Town Hall and the Carlisle School, as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes door replacements at the Town Hall and the Robbins school building and a drinking fountain at the Spalding school building.
Article 13 - Sander dump truck
DPW is requesting $85,000 for a sander dump truck. The finance committee recommends approval of the article if the debt exclusion ballot question passes.
Article 14 - Ladder truck
The fire department is requesting $760,000 for a ladder truck. The finance committee recommends approval if the debt exclusion ballot question passes. The ladder truck is requested because some buildings in town - including the Town Hall - are too tall to be reached with hoses.
Article 15 - Environmental remediation
This article seeks $2,500 for continuation of testing in what has been a long-running cleanup process at the Carlisle police station. Although the contamination is now considered extremely low and still dropping, regular testing must be carried out until the state gives a final okay.
Article 16 - Mosquito control
Last year the town voted down a proposal to join the Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Program which would have included some spraying for adult mosquitoes. This year the board of health explored an alternative program with the Eastern Middlesex Mosquito Control Project which provides greater town control and input. Several neighboring towns have joined this project. The article asks for $12,000 for membership in the Eastern Middlesex Mosquito Control Project, for services including mosquito trapping and surveillance, wetland surveys, and educational programs. The finance committee does not recommend approval.
Article 17 - Veteran agent
The town is required by law to provide an agent, who arranges for services from a variety of state and federal resources for any veteran or family of a veteran living in town. The cost of salary and expenses for these services for FY01 will be $1,402. Expenses above this level will be reimbursed by the state.
Article 18 - Greenough Dam
An October 2000 inspection report from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) office of dam safety declared the dam on the 242-acre Greenough conservation land to be in fair to poor condition. Their engineers recommended that the town employ a registered professional civil engineer specializing in dam repair at your earliest opportunity, in order to determine the scope of the problem and develop engineering specifications for the necessary repairs.
The 70-year-old man-made, earthen structure checks the flow of Pages Brook to form the scenic Greenough Pond and extensive upstream wetlands. This largest open-water body in Carlisle was the main reason the town purchased the property in 1973 to provide a variety of recreational activities for townspeople and preserve rich habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife. The dam also serves as the only access road to the rest of the property from Carlisle.
This article would provide $30,050 to engage the services of Robert Stevens Associates, dam engineering specialists chosen from a field of five firms for reasons of both price and thoroughness. In order for the town to meet DEM requirements and become eligible for future help in funding repairs, state regulations require the engineering firm to evaluate the integrity of the dam, study the hydrology and hydraulics related to the deteriorating spillways and prepare engineering specifications for use in seeking contract bids.
The commission has pointed out that, were the dam to go out, not only would the pond be lost, but the state would require an expensive decommissioning process that includes environmental impacts, testing of pond sediments for pollutants, diminished water quality, and following that, remediation of damage done. Decommissioning of a one-acre pond and its dam in the town of Plymouth is costing in the vicinity of $350,000. Greenough Pond covers 18 to 20 acres.
Engineer Stevens has informed the commission and the selectmen that his preliminary appraisal shows the most pressing repair item, following the cutting down of 50 or more trees of at least six inch girth, will be the removal of their roots and packing of the resulting cavities. DPW head Gary Davis has told the commission he has equipment to accomplish that part of the job, but only under a dam engineers direction. A second obvious threat to the structure is water erosion at the sides of the spillways, considered a first step to a breach. Recent spring flooding gave the commission great concern but provided an opportunity for the engineer to videotape the dams performance under extreme pressure.
Asked at a March 20 selectmens meeting for an estimate of the overall cost, Stevens offered a range from $30,000 to $150,000, depending on the results of his study.
Article 19 - Free cash transfer
The finance committee recommends a transfer of $213,546. According to the Warrant book, the FinCom expects the level of free cash [plus] the balance in the stabilization fund to approximate about $800,000, or 5% of the total budget of the town after all transfers have been completed.
Article 20 Diment Tot Lot
The Diment Park Tot Lot play equipment was originally acquired through public funds and private donations. This article authorizes the donation of the facility to the town, to be managed and maintained by the recreation commission.
Article 21 Ch. 40 acceptance
Chapter 40 Section 22F of the general laws permits the town to issue licenses, permits, certificates, and to establish and collect appropriate fees for licenses, permits, certificates, fines, etc., except where the fee structure is specifically mandated by local or state regulations.
Article 22 Housing plan
The Carlisle Housing Authority asks the town to accept their Town of Carlisle Affordable Housing Plan 2001.This is the same plan that was introduced at the Fall Town Meeting, and calls for the construction, over time, of multiple small affordable housing clusters in various locations in the town. The article does not include any specific projects or funding requests.
Article 23 - Wetland bylaw
The stated purpose of the Carlisle Non-Zoning Wetland Protection Bylaw is to protect the water resources of the town by regulating activity in or near wetland resource areas whenever the proposed work is deemed significant to private water supply, ground water supply, flood or storm damage control or protection of wildlife habitat.
Major revisions in this article, sought by the conservation commission, would bring town bylaw into conformity with the expanded Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act (WPA), propose new fee and penalty structures and extend local jurisdiction to two additional types of wetlands, namely Isolated Land Subject to Flooding and vernal pools. They also seek to establish a 100-foot Adjacent Upland Resource Area (AURA) that coincides exactly with the familiar 100-foot buffer zone under the WPA, but allows for inclusion of local setback regulations that can delineate undisturbed, vegetated zones therein.
State law protects bordering vegetated wetlands but not isolated wetlands. Vernal pools, which are defined as seasonal wet depressions that contain at least 200 cubic feet of water part of the year, provide breeding and rearing habitat for amphibian species and harbor no predatory fish to eat the eggs, can be certified under WPA: they cannot thereafter be filled in, but neither are they protected from close encroachment on their borders. Therefore, many surrounding towns, and about 70 statewide, have strengthened local bylaws to offer setback protection to the immediate upland surroundings of these features, as well as to all state-protected wetland resource areas.
In the interests of flexibility, the bylaw revision does not itself include the anticipated setback dimensions. These will be officially promulgated following hoped-for acceptance of the amended bylaw and a mandated public hearing. The commission has indicated they will call for a 35-foot no disturbance zone surrounding all listed wetland features and a 50-foot setback for most structural foundations. However, their website states that landowner hardship can still be taken into account.
The most frequently heard misgivings about the proposed revisions have included fears about a rash of legal challenges, concern about possible rigidity in application of the increased oversight responsibility, and a perception that, in the case of vernal pools, too much onus is placed on the landowner to prove that the wet area in his or her backyard is not a vernal pool. Some of the concerns of present residents have been addressed in sub-articles that declare that the AURA or buffer zone, even for vernal pools, would not extend over existing lawns, gardens, landscaped or developed areas, while other provisions exempt work involving maintenance, repair and replacement of existing structures as long as it does not involve significant expansion.
(Also see two commentaries on page 18, relevant to this article.)
Article 24 - Wireless bylaw
The planning board is requesting a housekeeping change to the Personal Wireless Communication Facilities Bylaw. The changes presented are minor and consist of correction to typographical error in the existing bylaw and deletion of the word modify. By striking the word modify the planning board eliminates review of small alterations, such as a replacement antenna, from a full application process. The planning board asserts that this was the intention of the bylaw when it was originally adopted.
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