Friday, March 14, 2008
Selectmen set agenda for Annual Town Meeting on May 5
With over 20 Articles up for consideration and more than a few hot topics, this year’s political gathering promises to rival previous years in terms of heated discussions. The Board of Selectmen (BOS) spent a good portion of the March 11 meeting finalizing and approving the Town Meeting Warrant Articles. This year an override will not be needed to cover increased in-town expenditures but voters will see an override for $251,600 to support the operating budget of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School (CCHS).
“I personally worry about areas of capital expenditure that we’ve put off,” said BOS Chair Timothy Hult, but “this is an important year to show this kind of restraint.” He praised the Finance Committee (FinCom) and various town boards for reductions or holding to a flat budget. Nonetheless, he noted, “The [Carlisle] School will be slightly different with the reduction of personnel.” While he believes that every effort was made to maintain the educational program, he said, “$400,000 coming out of budget does not equal ‘level services.’”
Rising SPED costs affect budget
Carlisle Regional School Committee Chair Michael Fitzgerald presented the need to provide an additional $251,610 in support of the high school (see “Carlisle faces $251,610 override for CCHS,” page 1). “The challenges that we face in this budget year are significant,” said Fitzgerald. He concluded: “We can absorb the costs this year, but next year we can’t.”
Special education costs have risen to 20.4% of the CCHS budget. Selectman Doug Stevenson said, “This is the first year that we are seeing a decline in spending in regular education to allow for a significant increase in special education.” Fitzgerald said the special education picture has changed with the decision by the state judiciary that absolves insurance companies from covering special education costs. “All kinds of lobbying and reform need to take place,” he said. “Children in need should receive educational programs that they need.”
Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie responded, “This really needs to be revamped at the state level.” Stevenson pointed out that in the interim, this will come to the local level first, and he expressed the possibility voters might reject an override just to send a message to state legislators. Fitzgerald responded that the state mandated special education funding would then just come out of the budget for regular education and the impact to the education of the average student would be devastating.
Carlisle Finance Director Larry Barton suggested that town budget increases can come from $150,000 of Free Cash, rather than necessitating an override. The main expenditures include $91,000 to cover increased unemployment exposure for the year, $45,000 for the Carlisle Public School, and $25,000 to hire an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) for the proposed Carlisle School building project as required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The remaining funds will cover police, Department of Public Works, communications, and Town Clerk needs. Free Cash funds cover non-recurring expenses encountered in a fiscal year.
Planning for Carlisle School building project
School Building Committee Chair Lee Storrs, joined by Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle, updated the Selectmen on the project’s progress. Assuming Town Meeting approves the funding of the OPM in May, the committee hopes to procure an individual for the job whose first task will be to issue RFPs (Request for Proposals). The group will then bring a request for schematic design funds to a Special Town Meeting in the fall. Hult called the proposed timeline integral to timely construction, and perceived that while the monies to acquire an OPM would probably proceed without too much fuss, the subsequent $200,000 to $300,000 request in the fall might be a different scenario. Selectman Alan Carpenito noted that with construction budgets continually on the rise, “The longer we lag behind, the costs go up.”
The School Building Committee requested an increase of the number of members from seven members (with two non-voting) to a potential 15 members (all voting). Members will serve three-year terms. The Selectmen approved the request unanimously. The committee hopes to add an architect to the group, and requests letters of interest from community members.
Board of Health wants power to impose fines
The Board of Health (BOH) would like to bring landowners of properties that violate town laws into compliance without going to court. Fines would help that happen. “We’re asking the town to have a non-criminal disposition procedure,” said BOH Chair Jeffrey Brem. If someone violates a regulation, for example pollution restrictions, the BOH would issue a notice and, if the landowner did not rectify the situation, subsequently issue a fine of up to $300. The landowner could appeal the fine, but they would have to initiate the process. Right now the only way the BOH can enforce its laws is through the courts, an expensive and time-consuming choice. Brem added, “This gives us a little bit of teeth to help enforce our laws.” He cited the precedent of the fines sometimes issued by the Conservation Commission.
Stevenson inquired, “What might a regular homeowner do to suggest that the BOH would issue a $300 fine?” Brem suggested the fee would be assessed to resolve complaints between homeowners. For example, if a property was in disrepair with broken windows and perceived as unsafe, a fine could prompt action – particularly in cases when tenants inhabit the building rather than the actual property owner.
The BOH wanted to also fine violators of state laws, but there was some question as to the legality of the move so the Selectmen decided to strike this language from the Warrant. Brem concluded, “I suppose this is step one. We may have to come back next year.”
Selectmen approves final Warrant
The Selectmen finished their agenda with the unanimous approval of a final Warrant for the May Town Meeting. At one point, the group did break privately to meet in executive session to discuss a legal issue. Hult did not share the subject of the meeting, but said it involved a specific case of homeowner taxes. ∆
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