LIVE BLOG: Southborough Annual Town Meeting 2013 – Day 1

by susan on April 8, 2013

Tonight at Trottier, Southborough voters will dig into the 27 articles that make up this year’s town meeting warrant. It’s a shorter list than most years, but there are still some big issues to hash out, from budgets to capital purchases to changes to our town government, and more.

Hopefully you’ll be here with me in the auditorium at Trottier Middle School tonight (the meeting starts at 7:00 pm), but if not you can follow all the action right here on the blog. Assuming I’m able to get Internet access at Trottier, I’ll be updating this post in (mostly) real time.

Refresh your browser to get the most recent updates. The newest ones will be at the bottom. The live blog will kick off somewhere around 7:00 pm tonight.

6:55 pm: I’m settled in my seat at Trottier, but we appear to be a ways away from reaching quorum at this point. I’ll let you know when things get underway.

7:15 pm: Lots of empty seats still, but Town Clerk Paul Berry says we have reach quorum, so we’re underway.

7:30 pm: Town Meeting started with a moment of silence to the ones we lost this year. The Girl Scouts presented the colors, and Town Moderator David Coombs has explained the rules and reminded everyone to play nice.
Agree or disagree, “everyone’s here because they care deeply about the town.”

We’re off to Article 1.

7:30 pm: The Board of Health just awarded the annual Doc Stone award for contributions to public health. The award this year went to Linda Hubley of SouthboroughNews.com and to yours truly. Many thanks to the board for this wonderful honor, and for all the work they do on behalf of our community.

7:50 pm: Council on Aging talked about the importance of nursing services at the Senior Center, encourages residents to take advantage of the resource. Dana Cunningham of the Planning Board gave an update on the status of the zoning overhaul project. Hopes it will come before voters at a Special Town Meeting in the fall.

8:00 pm: Article 1 was to hear reports, and did not require a vote. Articles 2 through 4 passed easily with little discussion.

Selectman Bill Boland announced an agreement has been reached with the fire union. Details sound similar to agreements previously reached with DPW and police. Annual cost of living increases of 1.5% or less for all three contracts plus reduction in health care costs. Town Meeting approved funding for all three contracts in Article 5 with no discussion.

8:15 pm: Al Hamilton is giving an overview of Article 7 which would give Southborough’s town administrator more authority. It’s the first of three articles that propose changes to our town government.

An amendment to the original article was made based on feedback from town counsel.Town Meeting is trying to get its head around what the changes in the amendment are.

8:30 pm: The amendment to Article 7 passed, and then the amended article passed with only one or two hands raised in opposition.

On to Article 8 that aims to empower the town administrator to sign warrants, which are authorizations to pay bills. This is the second in the suite of articles that came out of the defeat of last year’s strong town manager proposal.

8:55 pm: Article 8 passed with little discussion. We’re on to Article 9 which seeks to expand the Board of Selectmen from three to five members. We’re also on to our first real debate of the evening.

Chairman John Rooney made an impassioned speech in support of expanding the board saying the current structure was created in Colonial times to deal with Colonial issues. Fellow selectmen Bill Boland and Dan Kolenda oppose the article on the fear that there will not be enough qualified candidates to fill the five seats.

A handful of residents are lined up at the microphones waiting to have their say.

9:15 pm: Still debating whether to increase the size of the Board of Selectmen. Former Selectwoman Donna McDaniel opposed the idea saying it will encourage unqualified candidates to run. Former board members Roger Challen and Bonnie Phaneuf spoke in support of the article. A number of other current and former board and committee members have spoken out on the issue both for and against.

9:25 pm: Article 9 to expand the board of selectmen from three to five members passed by a wide margin: 131 in favor, 30 opposed. The measure still needs to be approved at the ballot box before it takes effect.

9:50 pm: Going through operating budgets. A number have been held for further discussion, including DPW, Library, K-8 schools, and Algonquin.

10:10 pm: Library Director Jane Cain is about to give a presentation. The Board of Selectmen has moved to reduce their budget from a requested $393K to $383K.

10:25 pm: Library Board wants to increase staffing by 12 hours per week to meet growing demand. Cain told Town Meeting the library may have to consider cutting hours if they don’t get the staffing request.

The Board of Selectmen opposed the additional hours saying it sends a bad message to other departments that held steady with their budgets without adding services.

The applause Cain got at the end of her presentation suggests voters might be leaning in her favor.

10:30 pm: The Board of Selectmen’s motion to reduce the library budget by $10K failed by a wide margin, and Town Meeting went on to approve the library’s requested budget at $393K.

10:35 pm: School budgets are almost always the subject of much debate at Town Meeting. Not this year.

Both the K-8 and Algonquin budgets passed with almost no discussion. Only a few, if any, hands were raised in opposition.

10:50 pm: Voters approved all capital requests, including a new generator for the Senior Center, two new police cruisers, a new ambulance, and more. A few residents had questions about the generator, but not much in the way of debate.

10:55 pm: We’re cruising now. Articles 12 through 16 all approved with no discussion.

11:00 pm: Town bylaw says Town Meeting must end at 11:00 pm, but with only a few more articles left to consider, Town Moderator Coombs asked for support from the floor to keep going. Town Meeting agreed, and on we go.

11:15 pm: No town roads or open space was accepted as result of two articles being withdrawn and one failing to pass. More details later because we are officially adjourned and I’m going home!

1 Jessica April 8, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Hello from across the auditorium! ;-)
Do you know if there is a wifi password that was given out?

2 Barb Black April 9, 2013 at 8:12 AM

Thank you for.covering this “live”, Susan. Congratulations on your well-deserved award!
It was interesting to put faces last night.to the names I have read in this this blog over the past year.

I am wondering if last night’s low attendance could be attributed, in part, to the “average” Southboro resident feeling powerless to affect change. John Rooney’s graphic presentation of where this town is headed financially over the next three years was disturbing and alarming. Clearly, the planning board and most town committees have made valiant efforts to keep expenditures in check. They are to be congratulated. The Library committee rallied their supporters, and they prevailed with their budget increase request–with a small concession. It appeared that nobody was willing to publicly challenge the school budget. Yet when you speak with residents in private, many are dismayed, frustrated and frightened.

Sadly, it appears that Neil Rossen’s frequent prediction of voter apathy/impotence proved accurate last night. Is the future of Southborough to become either a “Ghetto of the Rich” (as I recall hearing a tour bus operator describe a Boston waterfront condominium complex a number of years ago)? Or are we headed for bankruptcy? Is there a middle ground?

3 Southside Gadsden Flyer April 9, 2013 at 8:52 AM

First, congratulations on your award, Susan! Well deserved and I’m glad your name will be on that award for prosperity!

I, like Barb, above, was extremely worried about the town’s fiscal future after seeing John Rooney’s presentation. I was one of the few who voted against the library’s $9K increase in funding. One of the trustees used the emotional words “shuttering the library” which I believe everyone reacted to in their vote. This article was NOT about shuttering the library.

While I love the library, there are appropriate times for everything. This is hardly the time to be spending even a small amount of $9,000, and I left Town Meeting very disappointed.

4 Alain Lewis April 9, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Greetings from across the water. I thought you might be interested to know that Southborough Town Council in England had its Annual Town Meeting the day after yours.

5 Jane Smith April 10, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Library Trustees want to thank TM for its support and correct a few misconceptions. No Trustee used the word “shutter.” As the previous poster noted, the issue was not about “shuttering” the Library. The issue was about having to cut the number of hours the Library is open. Also, Trustees did not “rally” folks to attend; there was no effort to “pack the hall.” We simply put forth the budget we believe the Library needs and let the voters decide. Certainly, it was discouraging to see so few voters present. Trustees also want to thank the Advisory Committee for its thorough review of our budget this year, and ultimate support (although not unanimous).

Speaking as a private citizen, now, I would like to thank everyone who had a hand in the budget process, as well as Al Hamilton and his committee for their hard work, and the two town manager committees before his. Southborough is fortunate to have so many volunteers willing to donate their time and talent for the betterment of the community. And, I applaud Mr. Rooney’s efforts to broaden our tax base. Hopefully we can both increase our revenue stream and keep the town’s character intact.

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