Town Meeting Update: BOS to ask for about 2.67% tax increase, a few budget items may change (Kallander and Open Space)

by beth on March 7, 2019

Post image for Town Meeting Update: BOS to ask for about 2.67% tax increase, a few budget items may change (Kallander and Open Space)

The Town has posted the official Budget Book for Town Meeting. It includes details on the FY2020 budget that the Board of Selectmen will ask voters to support. It estimates a resulting 2.67% increase in property tax rates.

Southborough FY20 Budget Summary

(click to enlarge)

You can take a look at the overall picture in the Budget Summary chart (image right.)

Based on Tuesday night’s joint BOS and Advisory meeting, that figure may be revised. A few items still need ironing out. But at this point, it looks impacts from changes would be slight.

There is potential of selectmen adding another about 0.01% or for Advisory recommending an even lower figure. (Though, the latter is less likely.)

The only potential increase to the bottom line that has been publicly discussed is for Recreation’s Kallander Field feasibility study.

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan told selectmen that it will cost $19,270 instead of the $15K designated in the budget. Galligan based that on a quote she received. She told the board that she hadn’t discussed it with Rec yet since the Director was on vacation. But she believed that Rec’s initial ask was based on an estimate.

Advisory Chair Kathy Cook told the room that just two weeks ago Rec confirmed that that the $15K was a firm quote. She said Advisory brought Rec in specifically to discuss the field project. Selectman Brian Shea opined that any request to formally change the figure should come directly from Rec. The board agreed to put it on their March 19th agenda.

Also on the agenda will be a request by Selectman Dan Kolenda to reallocate $500 in the operating budget. Towards the end of the meeting, he asked the board to reconsider the increase they previously approved for the Open Space Preservation Commission.

That money was designated to allow members to attend educational conferences. Kolenda reiterated his opinion that they could find information for free online. He lamented the understaffing of Southborough Youth and Family Services. He asked for the $500 to be shifted to them.

Kolenda said he believed the money would be better spent on the needs of troubled youth in Town than on “insects”. He referred to the opioid crisis which he said has led to deaths in our town. 

Chair Lisa Braccio said she appreciated his thinking. But she believed a lot of people support Open Space in town and pointed out that Advisory had planned to support a larger figure. 

Braccio furthered that the board had approved the budget increase that SYFS was asking for this year – which was a lot more than $500. Shea said that after more than four hours late at night, he wasn’t looking to reopen past budget decisions. Kolenda asked to schedule it for their next meeting. Braccio agreed.

The budget with the 2.67% tax increase is the Board of Selectmen’s version after Tuesday night’s votes. It includes $150K more for fixing Library water issues than in Advisory’s version. But Advisory is likely to be on the same page by Town Meeting. 

Cook explained that their figure had been based on missing data. They had approved a margin beyond the estimates for recommended fixes on the property. They were unaware that the additional recommended improvements under the Main Street Reconstruction project came with a price tag.

Galligan explained that the drainage work on the street for the Library is an add-on to the state project. Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf asked Galligan to get written assurance from the Town’s consulting engineers that the work won’t negatively impact the Main St project.

Town Administer Mark Purple reiterated that the drainage work can’t fully eliminate the risk for more flooding in the Library. It just reduces the risks and liabilities. He reminded the board and committee that the Library is sited at the bottom of a hill. He explained that whenever the water accumulates in the parking lot, there’s a flood risk.

Purple also noted that some of the work won’t begin until next year. The drainage will begin this spring. Curbing, expected to assist in directing water from running to the parking lot, will be further into the Main St project.

Selectmen’s budget revisions on Tuesday night included adding another $41K for other road maintenance projects. That was based on Advisory’s recommendation. Member Chelsea Malinowski worked with Galligan on a three year plan. She told selectmen the Town will need to enter a new contract in the summer of 2021. At that time, they’ll need $1.5M.

Advisory is counting on $800K to come from Chapter 90 funds over two years. That leaves $700K from the Town’s coffers. The committee recommended splitting that over the next three Town Meetings. Since road funds were already in this year’s budget, Advisory recommends pushing most of the cost to the FY21 and FY22 budgets. But they also recommended upping this year’s ask. They settled on a total of $325K for road maintenance in FY20.

Kolenda wondered if the Town should ask for more now. He reminded that the next few years of Town budgets are forecast to be even tougher. Cook responded that she was looking to keep tax rates lower. She believed that a low increase first year that Public Safety Building debt impacts taxes will “send the right message”. 

Cook told Kolenda that Advisory has some ideas on how to mitigate Town expenses in future years. They will present those along with a three year outlook at Town Meeting.

One other capital expense discussed in depth on Tuesday was a $30K request for the Town to use toward purchasing its own fiber optic line. (Some of the other funding will come from Harvard donations dedicated to public safety expenses.) The commuications line is one part of an effort to fix police radio communication issues.

Dead spots and spotty connections in certain locations have plagued the department for years. There is equipment that needs to be replaced. But there is also belief that a deteriorating copper line is contributing to the problem. Apparently, Verizon is willing to replace it, but only with another copper line. Copper is viewed by some Town officials as outdated given current and future technology needs.

Selectmen and Advisory both supported the purchase. But Cook cautioned that they need to be prepared for questions on the floor. She told them she expects former Advisory member John Butler to argue against it.

Cook asked to have the Municipal Technology Committee weigh in. She opined that the committee should engage an expert consultant on the issue. She said that everyone involved in Town admits they aren’t experts on the issue. (Note: MTC had been scheduled to discuss it on Monday morning prior to the update to selectmen. The meeting had to be cancelled due to the snow storm.)

Technology manager Tom Laflamme said that they have consulted with an expert Motorola vendor. Cook asked if they can have confidence in him given his bias toward Motorolas. Laflamme said they did also look at another vendor. In the end they realized replacing the Motorola system would be more expensive and come with a learning curve.

Cook reiterated that Advisory approved the expense. She just advised that the MTC weigh in on the way it gets done “as a check”, to make sure the Town doesn’t make a mistake. 

Chief Paulhus acknowledged that the new line might not fix all of the problems. He warned another tower location might be needed. But to determine that, he says they first need to “start replacing antiquated equipment and copper lines”.

For more details on what the budget includes, click here to open the FY20 Budget Book. [Note: This version includes the updated Summary table. An earlier version posted by the Town yesterday had included a table that didn’t reflect selectmen’s Tuesday night votes. That was corrected today – prior to the book going to print.]

Updated (3/8/19 11:30 am): I removed reference to specific roads mentioned with poor coverage based on a reader’s suggestion it may be a security issue.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Wm R Cohen, M.D. March 9, 2019 at 6:50 AM

My sympathy for the families of anyone who died of an “unintended overdose of opioids” anywhere in our country. I understand that because of the regulations and laws part of the “War On Drugs” we have Prohibition, having learned nothing from the prohibition of alcohol almost one hundred years ago. At least in those days advocates of prohibition realized that the power to ban a substance had not been granted to the government by the Founders and that in order to pass such a law they would have to amend the Constitution itself first!
You can see for yourself by reading the list of enumerated powers in Article 1 Section 8 that there is no grant of a power for the government to forbid or prohibit a citizen from possessing, growing, ingesting, inhaling, imbibing, snorting, sniffing, injecting, or the like.
Only dictators or tyrants do so and that is not the American way.
Consequently anyone who elects to exercise his or her right to the pursuit of happiness, however misguided, Is obliged to obtain prohibited drugs from a street dealer in the black market, which means there is no quality control. No such purchase assures the buyer that they are getting the drug they want or that it is unadulterated. Laws prohibit doctors from prescribing certain drugs to those who are addicted.
The politicians are reluctant to repeal such regulations or laws prohibiting opioids because they know polls show how unpopular that would be and they want to be reelected. They don’t have the courage and the knowledge to enlighten their constituents to the fact that when Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001, when Portugal had a similar high death rate form opioids, the result was that the death rate plummeted. Users of opioids were able to obtain the drug legally from the pharmaceutical companies without prescriptions just as Americans could before the Harrison Act of 1914 and similar legislation over the years.
If you are troubled by the growing death rate from opioids in the tens of thousands each year exceeding the deaths from the endless wars, please consider letting your legislators know you want them to repeal the regulations and laws of the War On Drugs.
If you need more information go to youtube.com and watch Jeffrey A. Miron speak if favor of legalization of opioids. He is a Harvard professor of Economics who has been advocating legalization for decades. Also watch Nobel laureate Milton Friedman speak on Legalization of Opioids on youtube.com.
Ask those politicians running for reelection or for office where they stand on this issue and where in the Constitution they find the power to Prohibit citizens from using drugs of their choice. Keep in mind that thousands of citizens have been sentenced to lengthy years in prison for mere possession.
A vote for Libertarian Party candidates would help restore liberty to our country too.

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