Friday, March 20, 2009
Mosquitoes to marijuana, 35 articles pack TM Warrant
From school buildings to wind turbines to marijuana to mosquitoes, the 35 articles on the Warrant for Town Meeting on May 4 encompass a number of potentially controversial topics. So it was with obvious relief that the Board of Selectmen (BOS) on March 10 greeted the news that an override vote to balance the FY10 town budget will not be needed. However, the town will be asked to approve almost $1 million worth of debt exclusions for the Carlisle School schematic design, CCHS maintenance and planning, a DPW truck and cisterns.
The School Building Committee (SBC) will be advancing an article to fund the schematic design and project services portion of the Carlisle Public School renovation/replacement. The BOS decided to target the article for 8 p.m. Monday so that a maximum number of voters
would be present and plenty of time would be available for discussion. The total cost of this phase is expected to be $450,000, and the entire project is projected to cost approximately $20 million, although as much as 40% will be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA). BOS Chair Doug Stevenson noted the SBC is struggling to get information from MSBA so it can start its PR campaign, “This is the biggest project in the history of the town. It’s important that people are well-informed.”
Several articles involve the Highland Building, a former Carlisle School building, now unused. One would transfer the title from the Carlisle School Committee to the BOS. Another article put forward by the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) would provide for $400,000 to be transferred from the community preservation funds to finance phase 1 of the restoration recommended by the Highland Building Study Committee last summer.
Phase 1 renovations would include heating system repairs and a new boiler, plumbing and
electrical upgrades, a new front porch and installation of a cistern and sprinkler system for fire safety. Phase 1 would not include all renovations necessary for future use as a public building.
The Highland Study report called for the town to research adaptive re-use options prior to undertaking additional renovations specific to the type of use adopted. Phase 2 improvements, including an elevator, may eventually require as much as $1.4 million, according to the Highland Study report. The full report is available online at the town’s website www.carlislema.gov.
A final Warrant Article provides $109,000 to demolish the building if the CPC transfer is not approved.
Selectman and CPC member Tim Hult wondered if the title transfer should be withheld until after the other votes. He was concerned that Town Meeting will not approve either article, to fix up or demolish, leaving the BOS in possession of a decaying building. “I’m very worried about the liability of a building labeled a fire hazard by the fire chief,” he said, noting he has been contacted by people opposed to demolition even if funds are not available for improvement. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie observed that if the building were condemned as a public safety hazard, a fund transfer could be authorized for demolition without returning to Town Meeting.
The CPC article is expected to also include roughly $800,000 to repair the Gleason Library façade. The Selectmen considered whether borrowing some part of these funds would avoid
draining the CPC historic preservation fund. A phased approach was dismissed as likely to end up costing more. (For more on CPC requests, see article on page 5.)
Other capital projects
Other capital requests include a $750,000 article for CCHS improvements, of which $225,000 would be paid by Carlisle. (See page 5) Articles are also being presented for a DPW roll-off truck expected to cost $150,000 and $60,000 for Town Hall cisterns. A request for $475,000 to replace Fire Engine 6 has been withdrawn for the time being.
An article to join the Eastern Middlesex Mosquito Control Project at an expected cost of about $30,000 may be controversial. The last time mosquito control was considered was in 2001, when it was opposed by the Board of Health and soundly defeated. The current proposal would include “mosquito trapping and surveillance, wetland surveys, and educational services.”
Several bylaw changes
Several bylaw changes are being proposed. The Solar Power Generation and Wind Conversions System bylaw would provide guidelines for homeowners wishing to generate their own energy. Changes to the Wireless Zoning bylaw would encourage less visible locations for cell operations, including use of monopoles and existing structures such as steeples. Another bylaw change would outlaw marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinol. In November, state voters approved a question legalizing this substance.
Other bylaw changes would make the Town Clerk position covered under the town’s workers’ compensation program, change fees for dog licensing and amend the wetlands bylaw.
Finalizing the budget
Finance Committee (FinCom) Chair David Model reported that many departments had reduced their requests to make the numbers work. The Carlisle School had gone from hundreds of thousands of dollars to $140,000, and finally accepted a $67,000 increase over FY09. The high school was awarded a 4% increase in the guideline budget to try to meet Concord’s guideline, and an additional $22,000 will be required to achieve that goal. Many departments were asked to avoid spending their full budgets this year in preparation for a tough FY10.
Rather than present an override for $89,000, the FinCom is proposing a transfer of Free Cash to support the FY10 budget. Model noted that after deducting $75,000 to build up the Stabilization Fund, $15,000 for capital requests, and $89,000 to balance the budget, $814,000 will remain in the Free Cash account. BOS Chair Doug Stevenson observed that in a difficult year, “It’s a credit to you, the departments, and the schools that you were able to negotiate no override, maintain reserves, and not cut core services.”
Hult questioned the impact of possible reductions in state aid for FY10. Model said the budget was prepared using the governor’s proposed numbers. Even a further cut of 10% could be covered through reserves, as Carlisle receives only $1.5 million in state aid.
Articles are also being presented to extend the town’s contract with Wheelabrator for waste disposal, and to enter into a five-year contract for management of the Carlisle School’s wastewater treatment facility.
One article the BOS decided not to include was a request from Minuteman High School (MMRHS) to form a stabilization fund. This would fund small capital improvements without the need to go back to the towns. Selectman Tim Hult pointed to a 20% increase in Carlisle’s assessment this year for the school and predicted even higher assessments if the fund is established, “It’s another bucket to fill up and it will get filled up.” Faced with a crowded Warrant, the Selectmen voted not to include this article. If the fund is approved in a majority of the towns in the regional consortium, it will go into effect anyway.
New meeting format
This year Town Meeting will experiment with a Consent Agenda. Five routine articles, including salaries of elected officials, authorization of Chapter 90, fees for property revaluation services, actuarial fees, and revolving fund authorization will be voted as a block to save time. If one person in the audience calls “hold” when an article is announced, it will be removed from the Consent Agenda and voted separately.
Four ballot questions will be presented at Town Elections on May 12. They include debt exclusions for the Carlisle School design, CCHS repairs, DPW roll-off truck, and Fire Department cisterns.
The BOS closed the Warrant with a unanimous vote.
Town Meeting is planned for Monday, May 4 and is likely to continue on Tuesday, May 5. Town Elections are Tuesday, May 12. Anyone with questions about the Consent Agenda at Town Meeting is encouraged to call the Town Administrator at 1-978-371-6688. ∆
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