Friday, December 22, 2006
Town boards gather to discuss challenges and accomplishments
"The wonderful thing about Carlisle is the number of volunteers," said Selectman Chair Doug Stevenson, opening the All Boards Meeting (ABM) on December 12. He noted that compared to other towns, we have a "very, very large percentage of volunteers running our town government." Board and committee presenters detailed many accomplishments and voiced enthusiasm for missions as varied as enforcing town bylaws, providing quality of life for seniors, protecting land and ensuring safety during an emergency. But an underlying message was a need for more people and resources as a growing town population uses more services, and demands by developers and state agencies tax the largely part-time and volunteer force.
Financial picture says make do
There is little room for new resources in the budget guideline for FY07, which provides only a 2.9% increase over FY06. FinCom Chair Thornton Ash noted that the financial picture for FY07 is so challenging that the FinCom voted a cash transfer before the guideline was issued "just to make this a productive exercise." He told committees not to expect that more cash will be coming. "It'll be tight on the other end." A later presentation by Nicole Burkel of the School Committee added the information that the school will need $400,000 above the guideline to maintain level service in FY07.
Emergency planning adds to BOH, police workloads
Martha Bedrosian, chair of the Board of Health (BOH), provided a list of accomplishments over the past year. Emergency preparedness has been a focus, including distribution of a family emergency plan, planning of facilities for vaccination or quarantine and certification of BOH members on emergency command systems. In addition, 32 town volunteers were trained to provide emergency back up. Much emergency information has been put on the town web site to provide "an efficient way to communicate with townspeople."
The BOH also reviewed the Rocky Point development and made recommendations on the proposed Coventry Woods 40B development on Concord Street. In addition, routine work, such as inspections, well testing, rabies and flu clinics and the Spring Health Fair that provides screening for diabetes, high cholesterol and other ailments, continued.
Emergency preparedness was also on the police agenda. Chief John Sullivan reported that officers received training on the emergency incident command system, and the department is now "up to standard and we're trying to exceed the standard." Extensive work was done with the school, including practicing for a lock-down. "This is a top priority with us," said Sullivan.
Expenses are rising for membership in the North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLC) which the department has "come to rely on more and more" for training and emergency back-up personnel. In addition, the police need "reverse 911" ability to inform townspeople of an emergency, and improved internal radio communications, particularly as there are "blank spots in town that are a safety issue" when cruisers cannot communicate with headquarters.
Police training in computer crime is likely to be requested for FY07 as this has become a bigger threat. In the communications department, equipment costing $100,000 will have to be replaced because "they don't make the parts any more."
More townspeople use more services
Jim Elgin of the Council on Aging (COA) noted that more seniors are taking advantage of services and social opportunities. This is consistent with the COA's mission to enhance quality of life for seniors. However the demand of increasing numbers has taxed the staff which, according to Elgin, often works extra hours on a volunteer basis because their work cannot be completed in the part time hours allotted.
In addition, the COA has outgrown the Sleeper Room at Carlisle Village Court. An informal committee has been formed to look at needs, and has concluded a larger senior center is needed. Bert Williams said that 17% of the town is currently over 60, and by 2010 that number is expected to increase 57%. The COA hopes to work with other committees on a proposal, which could include a larger community center, "but we don't want to be the tail on someone else's dog."
The Gleason Library's Priscilla Stevens was pleased to report a "record-breaking year" with circulation rising to 135,000 and the web site receiving 35,000 hits. There was a 64% increase in programs with a 48% increase in attendance. Many of these were funded through grants. The open Saturdays during July and August were popular Stevens noted, and Stevens said,"we would like to consider making this a permanent part of the budget."
The Recreation Commission (RecCom) "has not discussed how to move forward" since the defeat of the Banta-Davis plan at Town Meeting, according to Cindy Nock. She believes that given the time and effort involved, and the well-documented demand, "the plan should not be thrown out." The group welcomes working with the COA on a plan for a community center and notes a survey of similar towns indicates "only one with as few facilities as we have." Programs continue to grow and it will be requested that a part-time administrator be made full-time. Two other administrators are paid from the revolving fund generated from fees.
At the Selectmen's meeting December 19, it was reported that Lori Canavan, chair of the Youth Commission, who was not at the meeting, will visit the Selectmen in January to discuss possible expansion of the committee. She is also concerned that CORI security checks of chaperones at the Friday Night Live middle school social events have become burdensome as the CORI profiles cannot be shared by different committees. One possible resolution is to make the Youth Commission part of the RecCom.
Volunteers needed for critical committees
Several boards are having a difficult time filling positions as the workload grows. In response to an earlier suggestion by Stevenson that boards try to attract volunteers with "limited projects," David Freedman of the Planning Board (PB), which enforces town zoning laws, admitted his committee is looking for people willing to take on a "full scale, intimidating job." The PB will have three openings in May plus the need to replace an auxiliary member. "We're willing to take advantage of all the time you have and more."
Current projects in the works include Greystone Crossing on Cross Street and new developments coming up on Westford Street and Rutland Street. The Coventry Woods 40B on Concord Street is a project on which "much time was spent" and a task force is needed to continue to move it forward. Wireless and accessory apartment rules and regulations changes and the Omnipoint special permit for a wireless facility are other agenda items, with "more applications for other (wireless) facilities at other locations" likely.
Cindy Nock of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) said the addition of an administrator at Town Hall to assist the ZBA has been very welcome as the workload has grown with the influx of 40Bs (see "Meet the Zoning Board of Appeals," page 1). With Coventry Woods still in process, the board needs to fill an immediate position for an associate member and two to three positions opening in May.
Don Rober of the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee (LTCR), which makes recommendations for yearly capital expenditures, echoed the need for volunteers. He said the LTCR has "plenty of vacancies" as they begin committee hearings the first week in January. He notes his is the only committee that meets during the day, and that its work is done by winter's end.
Maintaining conservation land, trails, historic areas
Peter Burn of the Conservation Commission reported on the "spectacularly good job" done by the Land Stewardship Committee, which manages town land, and noted the ConsCom will be reviewing Coventry Woods soon. A presentation to the Selectmen the following week by Tom Schultz indicated the ConsCom's budget will come in under the guideline "for the fourth year in a row." The department will apply more labor costs to the revolving funds containing fees generated by town and state bylaws. A concern is that fees set by the state for large projects do not cover the labor costs of enforcing those bylaws.
John Keating of the Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee (CRAC) noted Carlisle has 60 properties under conservation restrictions, "quite a lot for a town." These restrictions allow a property owner a lower tax rate in exchange for keeping land in conservation. The CRAC attempts to review restricted properties every five years, and has worked on resolving two violations this past year. A recent state law will allow the town to recover legal costs. An information sheet will be sent to all restricted property owners in an attempt to reduce the incidents of violations.
Steve Tobin of the Trails Committee noted his greatest challenge is maintaining trails in the face of beavers. "It's a humbling experience being outwitted by rodents." Upcoming projects include the Old Morse Road culvert, Foss Farm parking lot boardwalk, Rutland/Rangeway Road and Benfield.
Sylvia Sillers of the Historical Commission noted the "pressure with growth of the town and increasing rules and regulations." The board will be issuing clearer guidelines in the hopes of preventing problems. Sillers also reported on the Town Common Committee (TCC) as vice chair, noting the DPW has taken over maintenance and "we have turned our attention to the war memorial." The TCC will seek CPA funds in the spring for that project. Eventually burying the electrical and phone wires is also a goal.
The meeting ended with Stevenson thanking the many board and committee members for "working away for the betterment of Carlisle." The following week the Selectmen weighed-in on the meeting, generally agreeing it "went very well" (Stevenson) and "was very enlightening" (Williams). Tim Hult noted "It was a lot to take in 20 summaries" and suggested doing smaller groups of "like-minded" committees so there could be "more give and take over what we do." For example, he would like to get all committees associated with land use together so "we could have more discussion of strategies and action items." Stevenson said he will consider the suggestion. "We don't want this to be just another meeting, we want it to be a productive session."
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