Special Town Meeting Update: Change to Article 3 and Explanation for Article 4

by beth on October 29, 2021

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As we head towards Monday night’s Special Town Meeting, I’m continuing to look at what’s on the Warrant.

This morning, I’m focusing on the big changes I missed is being made to Article 3 and context for Article 4.

The good news is that none of the funding Articles at Special Town Meeting will add to the Town’s FY22 Budget and tax rates to be set.

Article 3 – Amend FY2022 Budget — General Fund/Water

On Wednesday, I wrote about Article 3, explaining the Board of Health’s request for an additional $99,682. Yesterday, I learned that the Board had voted to pull the request on Town Meeting floor.

A handout I quoted referred to the change, but didn’t clarify that the Article was being amended. As I posted Wednesday, the handout explains:

The BOH is utilizing other town funds to supplement the two full-time permanent positions as listed in the warrant.

BOH Chair Chelsea Malinowski reached out yesterday to explain the reason for the change. The compromise is similar to the one reached in the spring. Town officials believe they can take advantage of federal aid to cover the expense. (Scroll down for more detail on the funding plan for this year.)

The majority of Board of Health members were concerned that not officially budgeting the positions may jeopardize their plans for the full time staff to be permanent. (Advisory and Selectmen have questioned increased spending on the department given the economy.)

To establish their intent with the public, BOH posted the handout justifying the full time jobs. BOH Member Safdar Medina will speak to voters on Monday when they propose amending the Article to remove the request. (Officials won’t ask for it to be indefinitely postponed since it also included a budget item enabling the Town to lower water fees charged.)

Some of the above context was from watching this week’s Advisory Committee Meeting with the Board of Selectmen. I asked Malinowski (who is also the BOS Vice Chair) to help me understand a discussion they had on another item –Article 4.

Article 4 – Amend FY2022 Budget — Capital

This Article requests $115,000 for capital expenses, but without adding to the budgets voters approved be paid by taxes. Instead the funds will come from “Free Cash” in the Town’s coffers.*

IT Servers

$85K of the Article includes $40K voters may have already thought they approved in May.

Article 10 at Annual Town Meeting listed several expenses. Among them were two items that Healey announced to TM voters would instead be covered by PILOT payments by private schools. When he made the motion to approve an amended list of expenses, the total accidentally left out another item – an IT server for $40K.

While the $0K was left out of the motion, it was included in the estimated 3.19% tax increase TM voters were told would be caused by approving the requested operating and capital budgets.

[Note: I decided that I should clarify that I don’t mean the tax increase won’t go the projection last spring. It’s just that a likely increase is based on other unrelated factors. Passing or rejecting the Articles won’t impact the tax rate for the year.]***

Since May, the IT Director, who started not long before ATM, evaluated that what the Town really needs is a 3 server system with redundancies. That costs an additional $45K. The STM Warrant asks for $85K for the servers.

Feasibility Studies

In addition, the Town is seeking $30K for Engineering/Capital Feasibility Studies. That is for the Town’s ongoing work to determine what its long term municipal building needs are:

This item will allow the Capital Planning Committee along with numerous other town Boards, Committees, and Department Heads to continue exploration and any other preliminary design in developing a comprehensive capital plan related to the building needs of all town departments currently located in the Town House, Cordaville Hall, South Union School, DPW Facility, Library and School Administration space. Any proposed funds to be spent with this article will only be allowed after a presentation to and authorization by the Board of Selectmen.

More details on Fy22 plan for BOH funding

Originally, the Board wanted full time staff not just in reaction to the pandemic, but to enable the Board to better handle its responsibilities for the community. (You can read an explanation of that background in Wednesday’s post.) In order to take advantage of federal funding through FEMA and CARES for unbudgeted Covid expenses through December, the Board agreed to not budget the positions through Annual Town Meeting.

The compromise was to ask Special Town Meeting to fund the positions beginning in January.

This fall, the Advisory Committee pointed out that many of the hours the Public Health Director and Nurse are putting in are still related to Covid. The Committee opined that federal aid for contracted hours should still be available in 2022 if the cost isn’t budgeted.

If the federal funding is rejected, Advisory Chair Kathy Cook assured BOH there is enough money in the Town’s Reserve Funds to cover the expense.** Malinowski asked how Advisory would keep on top of making sure funds weren’t overdrawn at the end of the year. Cook responded that the amount for BOH will be in Advisory’s spreadsheet as an encumbrance against the Reserve Fund.

She followed that Town Department heads are on notice that no expenses will be approved for Reserve Fund reimbursement unless Advisory is notified at the time it is incurred. She warned that if someone comes to them in June with an expense incurred in January it won’t even be considered.

*Free Cash is the Town’s unrestricted available funds generated when revenue collections are more than budget estimates and/or when expenditures and encumbrances (unpaid bills and orders) are less than appropriations, or both. They are certified at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

**Reserve Funds are basically the Town’s rainy day fund for unforseen expenses. Unlike Free Cash, the amount in this fund is actually appropriated each year at Annual Town Meeting. Spending from this fund requires approval by the Advisory Committee.

***Updated (10/29/21 12:13 pm): I worried that as written, the post may have given the false impression that the tax rate remains projected as a 3.19% increase. So, I inserted a note under the recap for Article 4. At the October 19th BOS meeting, selectmen noted chagrin that lower assessed values for commercial properties than were projected will negatively impact the tax rate. They hope to discuss that at their November 3rd meeting.

To avoid adding additional tax burden to residents, selectmen and Advisory agreed that new funding requests approved this fall will be charged to Free Cash.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 clear as mud! October 30, 2021 at 1:18 PM

Your article makes it sound as though the BOS is pulling Article 3 and will NOT be asking for money for the BOH. Is this correct?

Then in your convoluted discussion of Article 4, the reader is left wondering if there is a money ask for an IT server or not. If there is, what is the amount?

Thanks.

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2 beth October 31, 2021 at 11:39 AM

I’m sorry you found it confusing.

Article 3 will be amended to remove the requested funds for BOH. It won’t be “pulled”, since it also includes the reduction in the budget for the Water fund.

As I stated at the top of the section on Article 4, that Article requests $115,000 for capital expenses.

That expense is for two line items.

1. As I summed up under the subsection on IT Servers, it asks for $85K for the servers. (That is the cost for the system that the IT Director said is needed. It’s $45K more than the $40K that was asked for in the spring but accidentally pulled from the motion voters approved at Annual Town Meeting.)

2. Under the subsection on Feasibility Study I explained the other $30K for Engineering/Capital Feasibility Studies.

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3 NO NEW TAXES November 1, 2021 at 7:51 AM

There are too many last minute changes and costs here that are difficult to understand. The tax increases and spending need to just stop for now. Voters VOTE NO to all TAX INCREASES and DOWNTOWN Article 10, the disorganized bums rush on downtown with all the density, traffic and taxpayer costs. Developers can pay their own costs, not you. It is simply unbelievable that the EDC is meeting right before town meeting today for further last minute changes, effectively out of the public eye, with virtually no time left to understand changes. Voters are supposed to get it all off the blog? What happened to in person public meetings? None to be had? But because your VOTES are needed, voters are herded like cattle to the first in person meeting in recent memory. Inconsistent and disrespectful to voters just trying to make sense of it all.

This entire zoning and sewer plant “initiative” stinks. How is it that Advisory and BOS is falling right in line when there are so many last minute changes? How is any of this in the spirit of Open Meeting Law? Who from the public even understands there’s an EDC meeting?

As for the BOS members using their personal emails to get support at the last minute, don’t forget they were supporting a COMPLETELY different housing plan about a week ago! The reality is that no one understands the “new” plan or it’s impacts; it hasn’t been around long enough to examine thoroughly! This entire episode and its proponents lack credibility with the flip flop stances. Voters, stop this nonsense. Take time. Send these fly by nighters packing. They all forgot there’s a pandemic that reduced values and collections? Vote no to this three ring circus and ever increasing taxes. The sky is not the limit. VOTE NO.

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4 beth November 1, 2021 at 8:20 AM

FYI – It is common practice for the boards and committees that have Articles up for a vote at a Town Meeting to have an in person meeting right before the big meeting.

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5 Downtown Resident November 1, 2021 at 9:02 AM

I’m concerned that some people at tonight’s special town meeting will think they are voting to allow the development of a shopping/dinning village-like complex, as they saw in the renderings that that was on view at the library by the ECD, to happen.
Fellow Southborough residents, please know, we are voting to allow the zoning to change so that mixed use building could happen. We are not voting for it to happen. We are voting so that it could happen. The town does not have a big plan, or any plan actually, for any shopping development. The development that this proposed bylaw will allow is currently unplanned and the renderings that you viewed were imaginative, to give the impression that that’s what you will be getting. There is no guarantee that we will be getting yummy snacks or places to buy gifts or green space for the family to enjoy. That will all depend on the current owners of properties to sell, developers to buy and build accordingly, and business proprietors to bring their businesses to Southborough (and what they bring is up to them).
Please vote carefully. Please do not cast an emotional vote. Vote for what Southborough’s tiny downtown can handle. If you feel the proposed bylaw still needs more work, vote no this time around.

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6 NO NEW TAXES November 1, 2021 at 9:38 AM

Of course it is common. But not for major changes. And when the public largely is not involved. Except at the last moment. This last minute rush leaves no time for appropriate consideration on impacts and costs. The proponents don’t even understand? How are the voters, who may well not even be aware, supposed to get all that is involved? There should be many in person meetings for the public, not just this one.

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7 Kelly Roney November 1, 2021 at 11:08 PM

So tired of all the whiners who think multiple perspectives and the attempt to reach consensus, which are core efforts in a working democracy, are somehow bad. Show up or shut up!

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