Friday, January 9, 2004
Carlisle boards and committees share their goals, tasks, concerns
The Town Hall was filled with a veritable Who's Who of Carlisle town government at the All-Boards meeting hosted by the Board of Selectmen on December 16. It was as if the Selectmen threw a party and everybody showed up. For some groups, it was the only opportunity to publicly laud their achievements over the past year — and to stress the need for more money.
Chair Tim Hult kicked off the meeting by expressing astonishment at the number of committees in Carlisle (24) and the importance of communication between them. "Each has an important function," he said. "This is not a decision-making meeting, but rather a time to share information." Realizing the tendency of some toward profuseness, Hult wisely limited each group to a maximum of two to three minutes. This challenge was met and the entire process took less than an hour.
Seated in the front row center was Lisa Jensen-Fellows, Chair of the Finance Committee, tightly gripping the town's purse strings and defending FinCom's onerous 0.45% guideline for budget increases. Revenue enhancement tops the list among FinCom's three main projects, which in Carlisle is the equivalent of trying to get blood out of a rock. The town's most successful product is new real estate growth, but that has recently fallen from $32M to $17.5M. FinCom continues to search everywhere for ways to improve efficiency. A long-term plan for capital projects and associated debt capacity analysis is also on their agenda. Jensen-Fellows expected the FinCom to come up with final guidelines in time for hearings to begin after the first of the year. (See schedule of Finance Committee budget hearings on page 11.)
Library trustee Mary Cheever expressed dismay at the budget restrictions and warned that the library might lose certification or be forced to reduce its hours as a result. As an aside, she revealed an ongoing problem with school kids coming down to the library after school and being disruptive and disrespectful. Next door neighbor Martha Bedrosian, who was at the meeting to represent the Board of Health, added that some of them also gather in the library parking lot to continue their unruly disturbance. Unfortunately, there's no other place in town for them to gather and socialize.
David Dockterman of the Carlisle School Committee described three issues that are taking up most of their time. Number one is the search for a new superintendent and dealing with the loss of senior teachers to retirement. Second, in what appears to be a common thread of discontent throughout the town, is the annual budget. Third is infrastructure, such as the wastewater treatment plant and classroom space. "We're right at the edge of what we can handle [spacewise]," he said. Town school expansion is presently on the shelf as recent numbers indicate there was not as much growth as anticipated, but it's only a temporary reprieve.
Tricia Smith affirmed that the Conservation Commission has revised their fee structure and is now pulling in more revenue. Much of their time is spent managing Carlisle's conservation lands. "We also have structures," she said, citing the great success of the Cranberry Bog house renovation and lamenting the state of the Greenough structures and that "dam project," on the Greenough Land off Maple Street.
Marje Stickler and the Council on Aging have been busy providing fuel assistance to needy seniors, managing the tax write-off program, providing walkers and canes where needed, lending out cell phones for 911 emergencies, and keeping watch over ten people in their "Are You OK?" program. Stickler wistfully dreamed that some day Carlisle will have a senior center, and declared that only two towns in Massachusetts presently are without such a facility. Carlisle is one of them.
Maureen Tarca reported that the Recreation Commission has added several adult programs, but the biggest problem they face is severe space limitations. Pre-school children present the greatest need, but there's no space to accommodate them. RecCom hopes to flood the Kimball's parking lot in the next few weeks to create a temporary skating rink for them to enjoy (global warming notwithstanding). Steve Tobin of the Trails Committee was proud of their newly created Clark Farm Trail. He also announced that the first leg of the Freeman Regional Rail Trail is expected to stretch from Lowell to the corner of Route 27 and 225. The trail would go through a tiny corner of Carlisle, about 900 feet, which would cost about $10K to $20K to complete. "Great place for a toll booth," joked Hult.
Terry Herndon admitted that the Board of Appeals is not very appealing right now. After finally emerging from the complexity of the Laurel Hollow Chapter 40B application, the BOA was plunged back into another 40B application on Maple Street. In a letter submitted to the Board of Selectmen prior to the meeting, Herndon, Chair of the BOA, explained that construction of dwelling units under 40B is governed by state regulations and not by the town's bylaws and regulations. "State laws cannot be broken," he emphasized.
This 40B application, Herndon went on to explain, has some interesting twists and turns. The applicants who control the approximately four-acre site through a Purchase and Sale Agreement, do not own any frontage on any Carlisle street. They claim to own a "right-of-way" over the "forty-foot wide paper street [called] Carlisle Street [that extends (they say) from] Treble Cove Road in Carlisle to Estey Road in Billerica" (Note that Treble Cove Road is in Billerica, not Carlisle). This right-of-way is over someone else's property and extends approximately 400 feet from Maple Street to the applicant's property, then runs over their property to a point opposite Estey Road. Second, the applicant's maps show that this "paper street" lies wholly in Carlisle. Third, there are suggestions that the applicants would use Estey Road for some kind of access, possibly for fire/emergency or otherwise.
"The BOA feels that these questions must be answered before considering anything else in the proposal," said Herndon. "Town Counsel has addressed the right-of-way issue and says that the application did not present adequate legal proof of the existence of a 'paper street' or of a right-of-way over it." The applicants have provided documentation in an attempt to substantiate their claim that Town Counsel is reviewing. Town Counsel is also writing the Billerica Selectmen about their interest and potential involvement in this. Herndon encouraged all Carlisle agencies and officials with appropriate expertise and factual information to attend the continued BOA public hearing meetings and provide input regarding these matters. "Please write the BOA at Town Hall if you have comments," Herndon concluded. "Expect to hear from us asking for your help as this moves forward."
Kathy Hassey, chair of the Carlisle Youth Commission, continues to be impeded by the effect of CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information). Many potential volunteers are leery of having their personal information disseminated throughout a government bureaucracy in what many consider a ham-handed law. "This is a big issue!" she emphasized, and Maureen Tarca of RecCom agreed. Police Chief Dave Galvin's generous offer to keep all personnel records safely under lock and key at the police station was found to violate yet another restriction, and the whole problem is back to square one.
Dave Kelch of the Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee, "the CRAC Committee", lists 50 conservation restrictions among the group's accomplishments. They regularly check the assessor's maps to make sure that all the restrictions are shown and continue to remind property owners, especially when property changes hands, that such restrictions exist so that they are not forgotten or ignored over time.
The Historical Commission, meanwhile, is looking at "demolition delay" regulations that dozens of communities in Massachusetts have instituted to discourage teardowns. Someone planning to replace a more humble and affordable dwelling with a trophy mansion must first apply for a permit and then go through a cooling-off period. The commission is also looking for possible Community Preservation Act projects, since a percentage of the CPA funds must be spent on historical preservation.
After the last of the town boards gave their report, Chair Tim Hult thanked them all for adhering to the time limits and praised them once again for their selfless volunteer efforts.
© 2004 The