BOS meeting recap: 9-11 Field roadblocks, public records policy, taxes and more (Updated)

by beth on November 4, 2014

There were no major controversies on Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting agenda. But there were a lot of interesting tidbits.

One highlight was disappointing news on roadblocks to re-turfing a town field.

Also of interest, a discussion of whether volunteer town committee members should pay out of pocket for public records requests necessary to do their jobs*.

Other meeting topics covered tax rates, a PILOT payment, future remote participation, and extending Sunday hours for liquor stores.

9-11 Field re-turfing roadblocks

Town Administrator Mark Purple updated the board on their disappointing pursuit of a 15-20 year lease from DCR on 9-11 field. (The field needs re-turfing, but low interest financing only works with a long-term loan. Voters approved the town seeking the lease and subsequent loans.)

Town and state house officials met with representatives from the Department of Conservation Recreation. The DCR informed them that their hands are tied. Right now they can only give out limited use permits. According to the reps, even a one year lease requires special legislation.

Purple characterized DCR reps as supportive but likely lame ducks. Staffers warned them that a new governor will probably replace the department’s administrators.

In the meantime, was encouraged to file for a grant with the department that may help with costs. And they are working with legislators to back DCR’s submission of a bill to extend leases of up to 10 years. (Though, that will still fall five years short of the town’s goal.)

Open Space – research & mapping project; OSPC members charged for Barn Hollow research

Selectmen voted to award a contract for the open space deed research and mapping project. (See more on that project here.)

In other OSPC news, selectmen responded to the committee Chair’s request to have a discounted public records fee waived. Instead, they voted to charge the Open Space Preservation Commission members the full fee.

Purple shared OSPC Chair Meme Luttrell’s request for the town to waive public records fees for their investigation into Barn Hollow open space issues. He explained that OSPC previously requested public records on Barn Hollow for a 22 month period. Purple said providing the over 600 pages in documents cost the town $122.20 for copies and $147 for staff hours.

The Town Administrator initially offered to waive staff time and just charge for the copies. Luttrell asked for the full fee be waived, prompting Purple to come to the board.

In answering questions, Purple told the board that the statute calls for charging for staff time and materials. He confirmed that Town Counsel’s time was used, which the town pays for. He also said that he has never waived a fee before.

Selectman Bonnie Phaneuf’s line of questioning was on the difference between a board with and without a budget. Boards that have budgets can use those funds to pay the fees.*

Phaneuf was in favor of supporting Purple’s initial offer to Luttrell to charge for copies only. But going forward she believed he should enforce the statute. She was outvoted by the other two attending selectmen, Dan Kolenda and Chair Bill Boland who supported charging the full $249.20.

Kolenda said he worried having someone decide when to waive fees would be a slippery slope and smack of favoritism.

After the vote was cast and the board was moving to adjourn to executive session, Luttrell asked to comment. She told selectmen that the statute actually recommends waiving the fee, “because all the records are considered public and should be readily available.”

Fellow OSPC member Freddie Gillespie supported the claim and clarified that the statute only puts a limit on what can be charged. Boland declined to readdress the vote and the board made no further comment.

Property Taxes and PILOT payments

The only agenda item to draw a crowd last night was the tax classification hearing. This year, attendees and selectmen were universally in favor of maintaining the town’s single property tax rate.

Selectmen voted to approve the single rate as recommended by the Board of Assessors. The rate decreased from $6.18 to $6.12, but is projected as an increase of 2.9% billed for an average single family home (excluding the Community Preservation Act surcharge).

Later in the evening, Selectmen accepted a $46,032 Payment in lieu of taxes from New England Center for Children. Town Administrator Mark Purple explained that NECC’s payment for the first half of the year is up by more than $5,700. The school increased the payment to reflect their purchase of three residential properties.

Purple said that NECC has been good about increasing PILOT payments whenever they take property off the town’s tax rolls.

Liquor stores allowed earlier hours on Sunday

This Sunday, you may be pleased if you’re making Bloody Marys for brunch, stocking up for a football party or  just looking some hair of the dog that bit you Saturday night. Five town “package stores” will now be able to sell liquor at 10:00 am on Sundays.

According to Purple, a recent law passed by the Governor requires the businesses to petition Selectmen for the right. But, the Selectmen aren’t allowed to deny the request.

New hours were granted to Mauro’s Market, Super Bill’s Liquors, The Vin Bin, Stonybrook Market, and Sperry’s. (So far, Fitzgerald’s and Turnpike Market haven’t submitted petitions.)

Remote participation for BOS meetings

Purple followed up on absent Selectman John Rooney’s request to “take the pulse” of board members to allow remote public participation at their meetings. Rooney is seeking to allow the public to submit questions and comments via email during live BOS meetings.

Boland was skeptical. He was concerned about their ability to determine which messages were legitimate and relevant to discussions while conducting business in the meeting. He pointed out that the community is able to email the board in advance of meetings and the agendas are publicly available.

Phaneuf suggested that if Rooney wanted to take responsibility they could allow him to try it for one or two meetings.

Kolenda said they should just have Purple pass on the feedback to Rooney. If he wants to pursue it, he can put it on the agenda for a meeting when all members are present.

*Update (11/10/14 3:56 pm): My impression from the discussion was that OSPC doesn’t have a budget. It turns out they do have a budget. But that budget for one year is smaller than the total public records fee being charged. ($185 in FY14 and $250 in FY15.)

1 Diane R November 4, 2014 at 3:27 PM

Question regarding “Demand” fees for late payment of Excise Tax. Recently I received a bill from the Town for $48.33 for my excise tax. I am 5 days late with my payment and they have assessed a $20.00 fee. When I inquired as to whether they think the fee is somewhat unconscionable, I was told that the residents for voted for it many years ago. Does anyone know whether this is accurate information?

Of course I will pay the extra $20 but I can assure the Town that I will NOT donate in the near future!

And, the kicker is that I already paid for the excise tax this year. We were charged again because the title changed owners. Now I have to take the time and energy to request a refund from our State.

2 John Kendall November 4, 2014 at 5:05 PM

They are cracking down. I completely forgot to license my dog this year. Low and behold I got a notice just over a week ago from the Animal Control Officer. $8.00 for the license, $10.00 late fee. You can bet I won’t forget next year1

3 Jim Hegarty November 4, 2014 at 6:34 PM

I also attended the recent meeting at the State House regarding the 9/11 Memorial Field. This initial meeting, although disappointing, was really just the first round in our fight to keep this field alive. This will be a long battle and we will not quit. We’re working on some creative options and I have great confidence that we will get this done!

We have great support for this project with assistance from Mark Purple, all the Selectmen including Selectmen Rooney and Kolenda who attended the meeting, as well as Rep Dykema and Sen Eldridge who also attended the meeting.

On a side note, I suspect that many people in town don’t understand how much time our Selectmen spend on our behalf. Selectmen Rooney and Kolenda took most of a day off from their work to attend this meeting in Boston. John Rooney had to drive to Springfield early that morning, then drive back to Boston just for this meeting!

I sincerely appreciate their commitment to this project which WILL succeed.

4 beth November 5, 2014 at 7:46 AM

Good luck!

5 Donna McDaniel November 6, 2014 at 11:03 PM

Questions re paying for copies…
Do other boards have to pay for copies–the selectmen, zba, pl bd, etc., to name just a few? If not, then why would someone serving on any town committee be required to pay for what they need to do their business… offered freely (whereas the selectmen receive a salary). Discriminatory… especially in a time when it’s not easy to get people to serve, wise to add a financial obligation?
Re the extra charge on late excise… I’ve been at every Town Meeting since 1972 and don’t recall any voting on that…. simple question: ask whoever told you (assessors, perhaps) what year it was…if you don’t want to ask, blame it on me– tell them I told you to!
Re e-mailing during meetings–as much as I am for citizen participation, it could be distracting if many wrote it (or some who were wanting to harrass) but no harm in inviting comment without promising to bring the question into the meeting–but to read afterward (and respond if desired). I have written questions during a meeting once in a while. What would concern me is if the Town Administrator is to decide which messages are worthwhile. If selectmen invite, then selectmen read. Maybe take turns each week and then decide which ones go to board or another member. Like other things… we can choose NOT to be against something because of possible problems… or choose to do — and handle IF problems develop Would that there were hoards of people out here watching selectmen’s meetings! I expect not a huge volume…

.

6 beth November 7, 2014 at 8:19 AM

I can answer the first question abouot public records fees (I think.)

Bonnie Phaneuf asked if funded boards are allowed to use their funds to pay for the public records fees. The answer was yes. Phaneuf seemed to be trying to determine if it was fair that the town in effect covers the fee for committees with budgets, but not for committees without budgets. Bill Boland and Dan Kolenda indicated they thought that was irrelevant. Then, Phaneuf dropped that line of question.

Kolenda was adamant about following the letter of the statute and they voted accordingly. When the issue was raised that perhaps the statute was different than selectmen thought when they cast their votes, they chose not to readdress it.

I was surprised that if people who are doing the work they are charged with on behalf of the town incur a cost, it should have to come out of their own pocket.

But then, I guess that comes down to the committee not having a budget. That apparently means the Town has decided they shouldn’t be incurring costs. And if each unbudgeted committee decided to spend money it doesn’t have in pursuit of their mission, that could get out of control. And from the Town’s perspective, causing a town department to incur costs that taxpayers have to fund is the same thing as spending money and asking to be reimbursed.

So, I do see both sides of the issue and was curious what others thought.

7 Samantha November 8, 2014 at 6:08 PM

I think it was an outrageous decision from the Selectmen not to waive the small fees. It was not the taxpayer money that the Selectmen want to save. It was the fear that the Selectmen will be exposed in public when the record of the Barn Hollow Open Space is out there. The way the Selectmen were acting and advocating , to give the Town land to some residents of Barn Hollow neighborhood, was improper. I know a lot of residents will contribute by their own money to pay for it. Can a resident ask for the record instead of a committee. It is only $250 expense. I am really disappointed in this Board of Selectmen. They care about covering themselves and not letting the truth out.

8 beth November 9, 2014 at 11:34 AM

The records were already received. The question was whether the committee had to pay for them now.

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