Friday, March 13, 2009
Planning Board to FinCom: Ouch
Using the fact that the number of Building Permits issued for new home construction has been substantially down because of the economy, the Finance Committee (FinCom) has suggested a 10% cut in the Planning Board budget for fiscal year 2010 (FY10). The board’s budget was also reduced in FY08 and FY09. Chair Greg Peterson, along with board treasurer Marc Lamere, associate member David Freedman and Planning Administrator George Mansfield, met with the FinCom on March 2 to defend the Planning Board’s original FY10 budget request. Afterward, Peterson shared their budget and workload documentation with the Mosquito.
With the recent workload experienced by Planning Board support staff, Peterson made the argument that a budget cut is not practical. Planning Board responsibilities are driven by land development, i.e. division of land, subdivisions, and related roadway and water drainage planning and construction, and not by the number of building permits issued. Hanover Hill, the 35-lot subdivision off of Westford Street, is an example. No building permits have been issued, but two new public roadways and 11 future common driveways are either in construction or approved for construction – all requiring board oversight. Planning Board involvement can extend up to two to three years after the plot plans are approved.
Filing fees collected for Planning Board activities pass directly into the town’s General Fund and are not available to support staff salaries or board expenses. Although 53E-1/2 and 53G accounts are funded by the applicant and cover the cost of the Planning Board’s hiring expert consultants, this money cannot be diverted to any use other than payment for consultant review. Staff salaries to provide oversight and to process documentation must be covered by the board’s budget. A measure of the sustained activity in recent years in spite of the drop in building permits is that 53G account expenditures for both calendar years 2007 and 2008 were approximately $35,000 – more than three times what was experienced in 2005 and 2006.
Other board activities that do not correlate with the number of building permits for new construction include wireless facility special permits, accessory apartment special permits, site plan coordination for the Board of Selectmen, advising the Zoning Board of Appeals on 40B applications, updating the town’s Affordable Housing Production Plan, public hearings on proposed zoning bylaws, and revising bylaws in response to changes in state regulations.
Because of prior cuts in the Planning Board budget, Peterson said that the board will lack the budget to lead town planning for FY10 forward. ∆
© 2009 The