The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 3, 2002

News

Town Warrant reflects tight budget year

The blue Town Warrant book that arrived in the mail last week offered no rosy pictures of town finances for the next fiscal year and beyond. "Carlisle is entering a period where revenues, not 'level-service expenditures,' must drive the budget," the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) warned in its letter to Carlisle voters. Slower town revenue growth and significantly reduced state reimbursements, coupled with skyrocketing costs for health insurance and other benefits will leave many town departments close to their FY02 budget levels, unless the town approves a Proposition 2-1/2 override at Town Meeting, starting next Monday, May 6, and at the town election the following week, on May 14.
Citizens had many questions for the finance committee at the FinCom's Warrant hearing last Monday night. (photo by Rik Pierce)

Opponents mobilize

A number of issues with tax impact, are expected to generate spirited debates on the Town Meeting floor. Carlisle Public School administration and parents have mobilized to fight hard for passage of the two override articles (Article 3 - 5.9% override and Article 4 - 7% override) to avoid cutting back popular services and programs, such as the school library and the full-day kindergarten. Supporters of the 2% Community Preservation Act (CPA) tax surcharge, which raised $430,000 this year for recreation, conservation, historical preservation or affordable housing, will vigorously oppose all three articles (Articles 21-23) which propose to lower the tax to 0.01%, 1.0% or 1.5%. Both groups will likely confront opposition from citizens who point to the fact that Carlisle taxes are already among the highest in the state, having risen 33.4% in the last five years. (See "Historical 10-Year Tax Increase" table on page 1 in the Warrant book.)

Funding the FY03 Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) budget has the largest uncertainties. Last week Concord Town Meeting approved the highest of four proposed high school budget levels. Only the lower two Concord budget levels match proposed CCHS allocations in Carlisle (Articles 5 and 6). Both towns will vote on overrides on May 14. If budget appropriations for the high school are still mismatched, Carlisle voters may face a Special Town Meeting and special election in June. If still no agreement is reached, a joint Concord-Carlisle Town Meeting may be needed this summer.

A brief summary of each of the 24 Warrant articles and the issues involved are presented below.

Article 1 ­ Town Reports

Short presentations will be made by one or two town committees. The reports are intended to inform and will have no discussion or action.

Article 2 - Salaries

The only elected officials who receive salaries are the Moderator ($50), Assessors ($100 each) and Town Clerk ($23,174 for FY03). Members of the board of selectmen have received no salary since an earlier board several years ago"donated" their $50 each salaries to provide some recognition for those who volunteer for the town (now appropriated as "Citizen recognition" in the general government expenses).

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Articles 3, 4, 5 - Operating Budget

These articles appropriate funds to pay for the operation and debt service for the town for fiscal year 2003. The total amounts that would be appropriated at each level are shown in summary form in the table titled "Article 3" on page 6 of the Warrant book. Additional tables break out expenses by department at each of the 3 levels (pages 7 to 12).

Article 3 would allow an increase of $642,924, or 3.8% more than this year (FY02), with just over half of this amount allocated for CCHS. Article 4 would raise spending by an additional 2.3% ($393,650), with half of the revenue added to the Carlisle Public School budget. Article 5 would add just under 1% ($152,000) more to the prior levels, again with just over half added to the Carlisle Public School and almost 30% more for the high school.
Weary members of the Carlisle Finance Committee would like to believe that it's almost over as they face town residents at the FinCom's annual Warrant hearing. From left to right are members Lisa Jensen-Fellows, David Trask, Larry Barton, chair Tony Allison, David Ives and John Nock. Not present is member Simon Platt. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

The constraints on the proposed "balanced" or "no-override" budget are due to an anticipated 10% decline in state aid, reduced "new growth" and available "free cash," increased debt service payments and non-discretionary expenses (increases in regional high school and other assessments, early retirement incentives for teachers, Superfund cleanup settlement, and costs for health insurance).

Possible future costs for the design of a new septic system for the Carlisle Public Schools are not included in the long term debt costs presented on page 12 of the Warrant book, even though some borrowing for this purpose has already been approved by voters. However, design of the system has been delayed until at least fall of 2002, so little or no expenditure is expected in FY03.

3. Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

4. Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: 5-1 in support

5. Selectmen: unanimously oppose

FinCom: 5-1 opposed

Article 6 - CCHS funding

This article, placed on the ballot by petition, would conditionally appropriate a sum of money to fund Carlisle's share of the FY03 CCHS budget recommended by the Concord Finance Committee. This level (as well as two higher levels) have already passed Concord Town Meeting last week. The maximum amount that could be appropriated by this article would be $91,858. This appropriation must also be approved by both Concord and Carlisle voters at their respective town elections, both on May 14.

However, even if it passes at Town Meeting, the funding for Article 6 will not be on the Carlisle ballot on May 14. Passage will require the selectmen to call a special election sometime in June. (For more on the CCHS budget tangle, see the April 12 and 26 issues of the Mosquito at www.carlislemosquito.org.)

Selectmen: 4-1 opposed

FinCom: Did not vote

7. Capital Equipment

The funds requested would allow the town to purchase a water filter system for the fire department, routine replacement equipment and vehicles for the police, fire and public works departments, replace up to ten computers and a roof at the school, a printer for the tax collector, and repaint trim at town hall.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 8 - Town Audit

The $16,000 requested will cover expenses to audit the town's financial records.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 9 ­ Chapter 90

This article enables the town to spend state funds for the reconstruction of Carlisle roads (Chapter 90 funds). The town has not been informed how much aid will be provided for FY03. These state reimbursements have been reduced substantially over the past few years.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 10 - Stabilization

Account Transfer

The approximately $300,000 now in the stabilization fund has, by consensus between FinCom and selectmen, been 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 state to subsidize the land's continuing use for agriculture. The $33,097 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, expected to be about $400,000 will be deposited in the stabilization fund. Over $100,000 is also anticipated from the release of funds escrowed in the sale of the O'Rourke farm to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service, for a possible purchase of an easement for a public water supply.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 11 - Departmental Revolving Funds

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 existing and allow several new funds which would be available in case the school committee decides to collect fees from parents to provide bus transportation for seventh and eighth graders, for preschool or kindergarten.

Add about user fees for bus and kindergarten and early childhood

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 12 - 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 $1,437. Expenses above this level will be reimbursed by the state.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 13 - Superfund Settlement

For many years, waste oil collections recycled at the transfer station were transported by the Beede Waste Oil Company to a site in Plaistow, NH. Both the transporter and the site were fully licensed. However, the EPA has designated the Plaistow facility a Superfund site and has assessed Carlisle a fee for recycling 19,000 gallons of waste oil. The volume of recycled oil and the magnitufe of the fees are still under negotiation.

This article permits the town to raise the needed funds, estimated around $93,000, to settle the Superfund assessment.

Article 14 - Transfer of free cash

The finance committee recommends a transfer of $225,000, which would leave approximately $225,000 in free cash.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 15 ­ Stabilization Fund

This article permits the town to transfer $300,000 into the town's stabilization fund. This is the fine AT&T Broadband must pay if the company does not meet it's

contractual obligations to upgrade cable and internet services in town by March 2003.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 16 - Senior Citizen

RE Tax Vouchers

Sponsored by Eunice Knight of the Council on Aging, this article takes advantage of a state law (Chapter 59 Section 5K) allowing towns to exchange volunteer work by persons over the age of 60 for vouchers to reduce property taxes up to $500 per individual. The maximum compensation rate is the current state minimum wage with no taxes, unemployment insurance, or workers' compensation reduction. The town can "create local rules and procedures" including income restrictions. According to Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie, the town of Westford has had success with this program, using volunteers to perform office work and handyman jobs, "things that wouldn't get done or that the budget doesn't allow."

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 17 - O'Rourke Water Study Transfer

Would help finance Article 16 (if it passes) by diverting funds earmarked for the O'Rourke Water Study, now completed, to the tax voucher program.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: unanimous support

Article 18 - Aid to Elderly

and Disabled Fund

Takes advantage of a state law (chapter 60 section 3D) allowing towns to add a check-off box or other mechanism to real estate or excise tax bills for taxpayers wishing to donate additional amounts toward a fund for defraying the real estate taxes of elderly and disabled citizens of low income. Establishment of an "aid to the elderly and disabled taxation fund" requires a "taxation aid committee" consisting of the chairman of the board of assessors, the town treasurer, and three residents. The committee adopts rules and regulations and identifies recipients.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: no financial impact

Article 19 - Conservation Restriction

Article 19 authorizes the board of selectmen to put a conservation restriction (CR) on land obtained by the town for conservation purposes during the late 1990s. The 66.7-acre total area includes six parcels as enumerated in the article, five of which were acquired to meet a challenge from Harvard University, and one, Buttrick Woods, which resulted from development of a conservation cluster.

As owner of the 677-acre Estabrook Woods biological preserve located between Carlisle and Concord, the school issued a challenge to the two towns and to private foundations, promising to protect The Woods permanently if those entities could obtain CRs on 400 acres abutting their Estabrook holdings. The acreage required was obtained by 1997 and Harvard duly registered its obligation to preserve The Woods.

The properties acquired within Carlisle were designated as conservation land by Town Meeting votes, but the promised CRs were not registered. Thus the town is under legal obligation to complete its part of the bargain. The Buttrick Woods conservation parcel has been added to the Estabrook CR for convenience, since it lies in the vicinity of The Woods.

The Trustees of Reservations, a statewide private trust, will hold the conservation restriction and monitor its observance.

Selectmen: did not vote

FinCom: 5-1 no financial

impact, 1 opposed

Article 20 - Wetland Bylaw Revisions

Only four of the 22 subsections to the Carlisle Wetland Bylaw appearing on this Warrant contain revisions of any significance. The other 18 consist of minor changes in wording designed to bring the bylaw into conformance with the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act as amended in the years 1997 and 2000 or represent editorial improvements.

Two substantive changes occur in sections 13.2.1 and 13.2.2, in which the commission proposes to replace an outdated fee structure that specifies a $25 filing fee for applications to do work in or near a wetland (Notices of Intent) or formal requests to ascertain whether such filing will be necessary (Requests for Determination).

Both the conservation commission and the board of selectmen are concerned that the present fees are far lower than those prevailing in other Massachusetts communities. More serious, they do not begin to cover the actual cost of evaluating the site and completing the resulting paperwork. Before setting the new figures the commission will hold a public hearing and establish a schedule more closely commensurate with costs.

The other two significant sub-sections raise the per day level of fines possible for willful violation of local bylaw or state statute.

Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: no financial impact

Articles 21, 22, 23 - CPA Surcharge

Articles 21, 22 and 23 are all proposals to cut the Community Preservation Act (CPA) real estate tax surcharge. The CPA tax surcharge was adopted by Carlisle last year at Town Meeting. The surcharge rate was then set to 2%, with the first $100,000 value of residential real estate excluded. Also excluded is residential property of any person qualifying for low-income housing, or moderate-income senior housing.

Money collected under the CPA is earmarked for preservation of open space, preservation of historic landscapes and structures, affordable housing and recreation facilities. The funds do not have to be spent in the year they are collected. The seven-member community preservation committee reviews proposals, and makes recommendations to Town Meeting, which must approve all expenditures. The state provides funds to match those collected by the towns, and this year the state is expected to give Carlisle approximately $215,758, matching Carlisle's CPA funds dollar for dollar. In order to keep the surcharge at 2%, Town Meeting would need to vote down all three Warrant articles. The conservation commission voted unanimously to recommend keeping the CPA rate at 2%.

Article 21 proposes cutting the CPA surcharge to 0.01%, the lowest allowed by law during the five years immediately after a town has voted to adopt the CPA surcharge. This article was submitted by petition. Article 22 would cut the CPA surcharge to 1%, and Article 23 would change the rate to 1.5%.

21 Selectmen: unanimously oppose

FinCom: unanimous support

ConsCom: opposed

Planning board: opposed

22 Selectmen: unanimous support

FinCom: 5-1 support

ConsCom: opposed

Planning board: opposed

23 Selectmen: 3-2 support

FinCom: unanimously oppose

ConsCom: opposed

Planning board: support

Article 24 - Tree& Shrubbery Removal Prohibition

This article has been withdrawn.

The following Mosquito staff members contributed to this report: Nancy Pierce (Articles 2-12, 14), Cecile Sandwen (Articles 16-18), Seba Gaines (Articles 19-20), Betsy Fell (Articles 21-23), and Maya Liteplo (Articles 1, 13, 15).


2002 The Carlisle Mosquito