Fall Special Town Meeting will be held for capital expenses and downtown Zoning

by beth on February 6, 2020

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This week the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee agreed to hold a Special Town Meeting in the fall on several capital Expense items. References were also made to using the meeting for a planned zoning Article on the Downtown Business Village.

Tuesday’s BOS meeting focused on the budget to be voted on at next month’s Annual Town Meeting. While the operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021 will be on the Warrant, many big capital items will be pushed off.

Selectmen and Advisory hope the delay will be to good effect thanks to anticipated work from a yet-to-be-formed Capital Budget Committee. BOS Vice Chair Marty Healy said that the committee, which had been “moribund for the past several years” had done terrific work for the Town for decades. He hoped they could reinvigorate the committee to do a sprint in time for a fall meeting.

Advisory Committee Chair Cathy Cook stressed that problems with the long term forecast are primarily rooted in planned capital spending. She anticipated that the new committee would be able to “come back with very strong, well thought out recommendations on what we should do with capital”.

Healey indicated that he would like the new committee to start this month or early March. But there was no discussion at the meeting about how the new committee would be created, charged, and appointed.

The previous “Capital Committee” was dissolved by Town Meeting voters in 2013, at the request of selectmen. The Article called to delete the relevant sections of the Town Code, pitching selectmen’s desire to replace the committee with:

an internal Capital Committee comprised of the Town Administrator, Town Accountant, Finance Director, and other members as deemed appropriate by the Board of Selectmen

Cook previewed that one of the biggest things she believed the new committee would look at would be the potential closing of a school, possibly Woodward. Don’t expect that to be on the Warrant this fall. Cook said that the School Committee was willing to take a new look at the situation, but it would be a longer term discussion.

Other options to be considered would be ways to pay for some capital projects using Community Preservation Act funding, leasing instead of buying, etc.

The Finance team wasn’t expecting a vote on a final budget this week. Early in the presentation, Treasurer Brian Ballantine referred to the budget as “a snapshot in time”. It was an acknowledgement that more details of the budget were still sure to be “tweaked”. 

The point of the meeting was to get selectmen to agree on a budget “framework”. They did. The board voted to support a bigger operating and capital budget than the one recommended by the Finance team last night. They voted to add in three expenses – each in favor of a “public safety” need.

The Advisory Committee has yet to vote on the final recommendation they will make to Annual Town Meeting. 

On Tuesday, Selectmen unanimously* agreed that Youth & Family Services made its case for replacing the recommended 2 part time admin positions with one full time admin. Referring to reported increases by police on their responses to domestic disturbances and incidents related to mental health, Selectman Sam Stivers said that he views SYFS as a public safety department.

The board was also compelled by Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus’ pitch that 3 patrol officers are needed on staff each shift. He described safety issues for officers when they have to respond to a situation without needed support and the other patrol car is on the other side of Town. To avoid an excessive use of overtime that is wearing on officers, he said that 2 new full time officers were needed. (The Police request was also supported by a “straw poll” by Advisory members.)

In a 3-1 split*, selectmen approved adding the purchase of a new Fire pumper truck to the capital items to be voted on this spring. Fire Chief Stephen Achilles said that the almost 20 year old reserve pumper is near the end of its expected life, and getting a new one built takes about a year. He further justified that a reserve truck isn’t just backup for a 2nd/3rd incident. It is also sometimes the primary truck when the other truck is being serviced.

Since the board’s votes didn’t align with the budget presented by Treasure Brian Ballantine, it’s not yet clear what the new tax rate impact will be. Even once it is determined, that will still be a gray area at Annual Town Meeting on March 28th.

The version Finance recommended if selectmen chose to postpone some capital items called for a 2.34% tax rate increase in the spring. But that would come with a certain increase of an unknown amount to be determined at the fall special. The alternate recommended version (that didn’t postpone capital expenses) would have required about a 3.46% tax rate increase. That was before the Selectmen added to operating and capital expenses.

Prior to selectmen’s vote, Cook told selectmen that she believed that Advisory’s version was close to the Finance version. She said that Finance was aware of small “discrepancies” Advisory had with the recommended budget. She also noted that while the Town needs to protect public safety, officials also have a fiduciary responsibility. 

The Advisory Chair opined that tax increases should be kept down to about what people’s incomes go up. She followed that Social Security payments only increased 1.6% last year. She emphasized that she keeps hearing residents complain that if taxes keep going up they won’t be able to afford to live here anymore.

*Chair Brian Shea was unable to attend the meeting, so selectmen votes were based on the remaining four members.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 n February 6, 2020 at 10:46 AM

Closing Woodward?

Fully support maintaining a school footprint that meets current needs and what we can reasonably expect. But Woodward, which is one of the newer and nicer schools with maintenance needs that I understand to be more manageable than the others…

Neary, despite its proximity to Trottier would on the surface be a far better candidate to close if we go that route. Kids are being taught in temporary trailers that have been there for how many years?

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2 beth February 6, 2020 at 11:59 AM

Honestly, I have no idea what the School Committee’s position would be on that. The impression I got was that Cook believed that Woodward might be seen as a good choice for other purposes. The possibility took me by surprise since it is one of the newest schools. But, as mentioned, I don’t expect that to be on the table this fall.

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3 Townie February 6, 2020 at 3:31 PM

The town needs to come down on these schools hard. Neary is a complete waste of money. The town needs tell the schools to start to utilize what they have more effectively. Trottier houses SAM, which has nothing to do with schools. Neary has a complete wing of the school that had classes room converted to offices. Are all the room in Woodward being used to the fullest extent? Are there rooms sitting unoccupied more often than not? I saw, reconsolidate the schools into 3 buildings, sorry it’s going to eliminate some administrative positions but it’s crunch time.

Close the school, and level it. It hasn’t been updated in years, and the school committee obviously has no intention of doing anything with it.

Build a brand new facility the will be able to house offices currently sitting at the senior center, art center, and Neary, as well as SAM. Make a new senior center and youth center, and utilize the surrounding fields for recreation. Sell the property on Cordaville, and Highland street to put some tax revenue back in our pockets.

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4 Al Hamilton February 10, 2020 at 3:57 PM

Our k-8 school population peaked in 2003 at 1614 students. Our current population for the 19-20 year is 1280. In 2003 we operated in a 3 school configuration with I believe some “portable” classrooms while Woodward was torn down and reconstructed. We now operate in 4 buildings with 336 fewer students.

This trend has been know for at least 10 years. If you want to check out data on school enrollment you can go here:

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=02760000&orgtypecode=5&&fycode=2020

Southborough is not alone, the trend towards declining enrollments is statewide and mirrors our own..

https://www.mbae.org/k-12-public-school-student-enrollment-trends-in-massachusetts/

It is interesting that “Developing Suburban Districts” ,which describes us saw the largest declines in enrollment.

https://www.mapc.org/enrollment/

Finally, MAPC the Metropolitan Area Planning Council documents significant decline in households headed by people 35 to 54, and projects no recovery in that population in the foreseeable future. This is the prime school age parent populations.

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5 TP February 6, 2020 at 12:11 PM

The taxpayers just took on the enormous expense of the Public Safety building. The public is not even fully aware of the huge additional operational costs of this building, permanently going forward. It is too big and too expensive. Multiple conference rooms, a gym, t.v.s for all, and on a golf course. (One citizen asks: “where is the pool?”) Covered parking. Where in the private sector do the taxpayers who are paying for this get to work at such a facility? Everyone who voted for this agrees it was time for a new, good facility. However, the huge costs need to be digested first and spread out. Stop spending. Start saving. Make do for now, for goodness sake.

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6 DbellNorth February 8, 2020 at 2:01 PM

LOL where’s the pool? I think everyone in Southboro owns a pool. I think we’re doing pretty good in Southboro if most homes can afford a pool. And since when is having a gym at the public safety building a bad thing? TV isn’t a sin either.

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7 Kathy Cook February 6, 2020 at 5:19 PM

Beth,

I did not mean to imply that Woodward should be the school closed IF the decision were made to close one of the four schools due to lower enrollment. I do not know what would be the better choice of school. I did mean to say that Woodward could be a choice because the debt to build the school is almost paid off. That means we have received almost all of the reimbursement from the state for the construction of Woodward,

When we last studied the four vs. three school model in 2013 – the Study Committee concluded that it would be difficult to close Woodward because we would lose the significant amount of state reimbursement still to be paid on the construction. Since that is no longer the case – Woodward could be closed if a decision was made to close a school,

It is way too early to say anything more about this. Deciding to close a school would be a significant decision requiring much study and thought, The impetus to looking at this again is that we have significantly fewer students in K-8 today than ten years ago,

And to TP – the purpose of closing a school would be to save taxpayer dollars.

Kathy Cook – Advisory Committee Chair

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8 Richard Snyder February 6, 2020 at 8:27 PM

I see the town meeting is March 28. I was unable to find that on any of the town websites. Will it be 1:00 like 2019?

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9 beth February 7, 2020 at 10:59 AM

It will start at 1:00. If needed, it will take a break at 5:00 pm to resume 7:00 – 11:00 pm. The hours were written into the Town Code in 2018. The starting date language was modified last March to be by the last Saturday in March – unless moved up to an earlier Saturday by Selectmen.

The meeting is posted on the Town’s website under the “Events” tab on the calendar. But, I know that’s not necessarily where people think to look for it. I’m positive that the Town will promote it better on the website (and through other means) as it approaches. Right now, it is still more than 7 weeks away.

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10 Michael Weishan February 7, 2020 at 12:57 AM

Once again, we are too poor to afford needed capital improvements and may possibly have to close a school, yet dozens of Fay and St. Marks parents send their children to Southborough public schools costing hundreds of thousand of dollars per year and pay not one dollar of tax. Let’s make this special Town Meeting about PILOT and really address these issues!

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11 K.Bernhardt March 14, 2020 at 11:42 PM

Pernaps it’s time to do as Brookline did and pass a moratorium on any additional property being purchased by the private schools, especially private residential properties on town tax rolls that will become non taxable. School employees who receive housing as part of their compensation in essence is having part of their salary being covered by the towns taxpayers,,while these residents receive full services from the town. Non-student private housing should be paying a tax equivalent to other residential properties.

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12 be a fool, go to... February 10, 2020 at 8:01 AM

It is my understanding Neary school is very old and, as noted above, continues to use trailers as classrooms. If you’ve visited the school, you will see that it shows its age. I have also been told the Woodward was extensively remodeled several years ago – and has the appearance of a newer building. Further Finn school has had, and continues to have, one entire wing remaining unoccupied!

Let’s raze Neary and move the school department offices either to Finn or to vacant space in the former school housing the Recreation Department.

Is it really true that non-Southborough residents, whose children attend Fay and/or St. Marks schools, send their children to Southborough public schools? Really?

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13 ssouthsider February 11, 2020 at 11:39 AM

St. Mark’s and Fay teachers who live in town have a right to send their kids to our public schools. This is one of the more glaring issues surrounding our attempts at beefing up the PILOT programs. Private school teachers who live in private school owned homes contribute nothing to the tax roles and the private school PILOT contributions ( esp from Fay and St Marks ) do not cover the town’s expenses spent in supporting these families and properties.
I do think some exceptions are made for our PUBLIC schol teachers who petition for permission to let their kids attend Southborugh schools.

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14 Lucy February 10, 2020 at 11:45 AM

I’ve heard this about Woodward because some of the senior population like Woodward as a senior center. Seniors vote and if you want to make sure crazy things like this don’t happen you have to show up. Our leadership spends and spends then threatens the school budget. The school budgets and performance of the schools is the only thing holding the value of your homes along with the quaint charm of a small town. Eliminate those and watch your values fall in line with Framingham and Marlboro. Why choose to live here for more money and more taxes it’s not for all the services outside of the schools we know this right?

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15 Frank Crowell February 10, 2020 at 12:28 PM

We have someone in a town leadership position threatening the school budget? The public school budget? I must have missed something.

Has the Hopkinton property values suffered due to spending less per student than Southborough? We are not talking by a small amount – the difference is $2000 per student the last time it was published. This has never been addressed by the educational elite.

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