Friday, May 9, 2008
Town Meeting approves all Warrant Articles
Override of $251,610 faces final vote at Town Election on Tuesday, May 13
A quiet group of 265 residents attended Annual Town Meeting on May 5 and approved a total operating budget of $22,130,344, including a levy-limit override of $251,610. If the override ballot question is also passed at Town Election on Tuesday, May 13, taxes next year will rise by 3.7%. Presentations were kept brief, and with few exceptions there was little discussion before all Warrant Articles were approved, most unanimously. The few questions centered around with the override (Article 15), the Veterans’ Honor Roll (Article 21, Motion 6), the Benfield infrastructure funding (Article 21, Motion 7) and the bylaw revision giving the Board of Health the right to issue fines (Article 28).
USA PATRIOT Act
Town Meeting in 2004 passed a resolution asking for an annual accounting of secret inquiries made at Town Hall under the USA PATRIOT Act, and Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie announced, “I’m pleased to say there has been no activity and no inquiries under the PATRIOT Act this year.” Moderator Tom Raftery said, “We’re safe,” to which an unknown audience member responded, “So far.”
Article 1 Town Reports
The 2007 Town Report was accepted under this routine motion. The Report contains over 150 pages of information from the Town Clerk, boards, committees and schools, and copies are available at Town Hall. This year the Report is dedicated to Bob Koning for his many years of public service. He retired in 2007 after serving as Electrical Inspector for 46 years and Building Inspector for 27 years, and prior to stepping down in 2003, he served 25 years as Fire Chief.
Article 2 Bookkeeping
A routine housekeeping Article transferred approximately $75,000 between town funds to balance the FY08 budget.
Articles 3-5 Court judgment
Just under $310,000 was transferred from FY08 funds to pay an individual a Court-ordered refund, with interest, of Chapter 61 roll-back taxes previously collected by the town. Funds used included: $225,000 from the Stabilization Fund, $48,250 transferred from Assessors’ reserves, and $36,349 from Free Cash.
Article 6 - no action
Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) Chair Michael Fitzgerald made a motion to take no action under this Article, which would have allowed additional FY08 funding for the high school. He explained that late last summer 11 unanticipated out-of-district special education placements had caused unplanned expenses of $874,000. However, through belt-tightening and additional state aid, the RSC was able to keep the FY08 budget out of the red. Fitzgerald said that $217,000 was cut from the supplies budget and a combination of state circuit-breaker funds and an award of $180,000 in extraordinary relief were used to close the budget gap.
Article 7 Carlisle School Building Project Manager
Voters approved spending $25,000 to hire an Owners Project Manager (OPM) and other expenses related to designing a replacement for the 50-year-old Spalding School Building. Lee Storrs, chair of the Carlisle School Building Committee, spoke briefly about the proposal, which is recommended by both his committee and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). He noted that Carlisle was one of 423 school projects submitted to the state over a year ago, now winnowed by the state down to one of 49 Feasibility Invitations issued last winter. After reviewing the Carlisle School’s Master Plan, the state chose Carlisle this spring as one of 11 projects encouraged to proceed into Schematic Design Phase. Storrs said that the OPM will work with the School Building Committee and will develop a scope of services for architectural work. The committee plans to come back to a fall Town Meeting with a request for design funds.
John Ballantine of Fiske Street asked about the size of the project, given that options considered in the past few years have ranged in size, and also varied in cost between $13 and $28 million. He was told that more information would be available in the coming months.
Article 8 Salaries
The salary of the Town Clerk ($51,306) was approved, along with token annual salaries for the assessors ($100) and Moderator ($50).
Article 9 Operating budget
Finance Committee (FinCom) Chair David Model reviewed the major components of the town’s expenses: education – 63.6% of the total budget; town departments – 21.7%; insurance and benefits – 8.3%; and debt service – 4.9%. Education costs were held to a 1.5% increase over FY08, he said, while other town departments were “virtually flat” with only a 0.6% increase. On the other hand, insurance and benefits rose 19% “not per our choice” and debt service dropped 2.4%.
The town has seen a steep decline in the growth of revenue due to lack of new housing construction, and looking at 2010 and beyond, Model said the FinCom is concerned that overall spending will outpace revenue generation. The FinCom sees no near-term increase in new housing starts, while wages, energy and insurance costs are expected to rise. With a new Carlisle School building likely, and either a new or renovated high school on the horizon, the FinCom recommends that the Selectmen explore both new sources of revenue and alternative ways to deliver town services. Both the Selectmen and FinCom recommended passage of the balanced budget under Article 9, and with only one question about group insurance pools from the floor, the budget was quickly passed.
Article 10 Capital Equipment
Don Rober of the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee (LTCRC) explained the $149,500 in requests: the Fire Department asked for $11,500 to replace worn protective clothing and pagers, as well as $15,000 to install hydraulic equipment, so that an existing portable water tank can be lifted and used with Engine 5.
Five funding requests for the Carlisle School included: $10,000 to patch the Spalding roof; $7,500 to purchase new classroom furniture; $8,000 to refurbish a gym bleacher for improved safety and to meet building code; $12,500 to fix water leaking through the roof of the Corey Dining Room; and another $25,000 to fund painting and other miscellaneous maintenance projects. Rober explained that the $25,000 had been included in the school’s budget until it was dropped last year. Because the LTCRC felt that deferring routine maintenance would be bad for the buildings long-term, they agreed to fold that amount into the annual Warrant Article for Capital Equipment.
The Town Administrator requested $5,000 to fund any modifications needed for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rober explained that this was a routine request.
The Police Department requested $36,000 for a new police cruiser. This is also a routine request, as they plan to replace one of their three cruisers each year. In addition, $4,000 was requested to begin the process of converting the police radios to digital technology, as required by the state. Another $10,000 was voted for radar units, and $5,000 for new holsters.
The only items questioned were the holsters. Rober said they have an expected life of five years and all are between five and seven years old. Chief John Sullivan explained that each officer has two. The cost ranges between about $100 for “off duty” Class 2 holsters and about $200 for “on duty” Class 3 holsters.
Article 11- 14 Routine articles
Under Article 11, Town Meeting voted to set aside $5,000, or half the cost of the Assessors’ tri-annual revaluation, which is next scheduled for FY10. The cost is being spread over two years.
In a similar move to spread out recurring costs, $4,000 was set aside under Article 12 toward the $8,000 expected cost of actuarial estimates of post-employment benefits to be completed for the state every two years, beginning in FY10.
Article 13 transferred $20,149 to be used for long term debt payment.
Article 14 transferred $14,948 from the Stabilization Fund to be used to pay principal and interest debt service for the purchase of the Robbins-Hutchins Fields (formerly Wang-Coombs Land).
Article 15 Override
Article 15: See “Recognizing mandates, Town Meeting passes override,” page 5. Only three voters took advantage of the childcare facilities in the Corey Dining room, and when they left after Article 15, the assistant moderator Ralph Anderson joined the main quorum in the Corey Auditorium.
Article 16 Free Cash
A total of $148,416 in Free Cash was transferred to fund FY09 budget items, including: $45,000 for the Carlisle School, $95,765 to be set aside for unemployment payments due to school layoffs and $7,651 in other items. According to Model, the balance remaining in Free Cash would be $697,269, or roughly 3.5% of the budget, an amount the FinCom recommends the town maintain to preserve a favorable bond rating.
Article 17 Revolving funds
Voters quickly approved this annual reauthorization of special-purpose revolving funds which hold various user fees.
Article 18 Road repairs
The town voted to spend $199,024 for road repairs, which will be fully reimbursed by the state. It was announced that the roads scheduled for improvement are: Bedford Road, Westford and Stearns Streets.
Article 19 Senior and Disabled Tax Exemption
Town Meeting voted this annual reauthorization to expand the maximum tax exemption from $1,000 to $2,000 per year. The state reimburses the town $500 per exemption.
Article 20 Leasing land for wireless facilities
There were no questions asked before voters approved this Article, giving the Selectmen authority to grant a 20-year lease or other use of four town properties for wireless service facilities. The parcels include the Fire Department land at 80 Westford Street; Town Hall property at 66 Westford Street; the DPW property off Lowell Street; and the Conant Property (Assessors’ Map 20, Parcel 6, Lot 0) off Rockland Road. This vote clarifies and expands a longer list of municipal properties approved last year.
Article 21 CPA projects
Article 21: See “Town approves all CPA funding requests,” page 4.
Article 22 - 23 New roads
Under Article 22, Town Meeting voted to accept Great Brook Path as a town way. The new road is located off Rutland Street. Koning Farm Road, located off Acton Street, was accepted as a new town way under Article 23.
Article 24 Rail Trail
There was no discussion before voters unanimously approved authorizing the Selectmen to sign inter-municipal agreements with Westford and Acton regarding grant applications for the design and construction of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Selectman Alan Carpenito explained it would create unified regional body that would improve eligibility for state, federal or other financing.
Article 25 Community septic management loan program
Board of Health Chair Jeffrey Brem explained how the state-sponsored program would be used to encourage homeowners to repair failing septic systems. Carlisle will receive a 0%-interest loan of up to $200,000 through a “State Revolving Fund” loan from the Water Pollution Abatement Trust. An additional grant of $20,000 is available to cover administrative costs. The Board of Health will re-loan the money to homeowners at 2% interest. The repayment charge will appear as a line item on homeowners’ tax bills. Interest accrued will help the town offset future administrative costs and there should be no effect on taxes. Brem noted that the program is already used in many other towns, and in the past decade about 4,500 loans have been granted.
Ed Sonn of Woodland Road commented that septic system replacement costs would be lower if Carlisle allowed the use of alternative technologies. Brem replied that recent revisions to the local Board of Health regulations allow greater flexibility in septic system design.
Article 26 Pathway easements
Voters authorized the Selectmen to acquire easements for pathways along Bedford Road and Lowell, East, Concord Streets. It passed with no discussion.
Article 27 School Bus Contract
Carlisle School Committee Chair Nicole Burkel read the motion and explained that state law requires Town Meeting approval for any contract over three-years in length, and the School Committee would like to issue a bus contract for a term of three years with two one-year renewal options in order to provide greater flexibility. Both the Selectmen and FinCom supported the Article, and it passed unanimously with no discussion.
Article 28 BOH fine
Voters approved a revision to Section 1.4.2 of the town’s general bylaws to give the Board of Health enforcement powers for local sewage disposal and water supply regulations. A fine of $300 may be issued for each day of violation. Brem explained that without the ability to issue a ticket, the board’s only recourse is to take violators to court. The Selectmen unanimously supported the Article, while the FinCom took no position.
Ralph Anderson of Baldwin Road thought that the size of the fine was too high because if hearings were delayed, a fine could grow quite large before the matter was resolved. He asked that the motion be reworded.
Brem said that the board had been advised that they need the fine. Until now, he said, they have settled disputes by talking with the homeowner, and he said, “I don’t even have an instance in the past that we needed this.”
Marybeth Stevenson of Cross Street agreed with Anderson and worried that it might take time for homeowners to repair a failed septic system, “It’s not fair that you’re going to stick people with at $300 per day fine.” Brem answered that state law allowed homeowners up to two years to fix a septic system. The Article was passed by voice vote, with minor dissent, and the meeting adjourned at 10:15 p.m. ∆
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