Town Meeting approves all budgets with little discussion

Above: Lots of empty seats at Town Meeting last night

It was a relatively quiet night as Southborough’s Annual Town Meeting continued last night, both in terms of attendance and in terms of the discussion. There were more open seats than filled ones, and only a handful of residents took to the microphones to discuss the various articles, including ones like the school budgets that commonly see lengthy debate.

At the end of the night, voters had approved a $47.7M municipal budget for fiscal year 2013, a 2.72% increase over the current year, which translates to a $150 tax increase for the average Southborough homeowner.

While there was plenty of discussion about the school budget – along with related topics like MCAS performance, teacher salaries, and declining school enrollment – on this blog and elsewhere in the lead up to Town Meeting, very little of it made its way to the floor last night.

You can read a nice recap of what little discussion there was on both the K-8 and regional school budgets in this article by the Metrowest Daily News.

Schools weren’t the only big budgets that made it through with little scrutiny last night. An increase to the public safety budgets of 2.74% along with a 2.68% increase to the library budget were approved without any discussion, as was a 1.08% decrease to the DPW’s tree, cemetery, and highway budget.

Town Meeting also allocated $300K for road maintenance and approved more than $1.1M for various capital items like defibrillators, hoses, and a new generator for the fire department, DPW equipment and facility upgrades, and two new police cruisers.

Did you attend Town Meeting last night? Were you surprised by the low turnout? Did you expect more discussion about budgets and other articles? Share your impressions in the comments below.

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Mark
10 years ago

I was wondering what 300k of road maintenance get us? Can anyone put that in perspective for us? And are there certain priorities? I mean I have no idea if 300,000 is a lot or a little, but I’m sure everyone knows of a few roads that are in need of some love. Thanks.

Tim Martel
10 years ago
Reply to  Mark

Its actually an accumulated amount, with the 300k now getting it to something over 1 mil (1.4? 1.6?) The specifics of where and when were not discussed. Both the BOS and Advisory supported it, and it passed with no discussion or dissension.

Sboro mom of 2
10 years ago

I wasn’t there because I couldn’t be there. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – I really, really wish Town Meeting was not on a weeknight. Why not a Saturday evening, when many people aren’t working, babysitters are more available, and there is no work the next day?

Or better yet – how about online TM viewing/participation and voting? I know a lot of people have mentioned the idea. Is there a way to get it officially on the table with the town? It is easy to live-stream a meeting. And maybe online voting could be done through a secure website with household tax information being used as a password. Via the census info, the town should know how many eligible voters there are in each household…

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Sboro mom of 2

I agree with you and would prefer a Sat (during the day) meeting. I think that would make it easier for parents with young children to attend. An article to that effect was brought before Town Meeting about 2 years ago and went down to defeat by a substantial margin.

The reality is that the people in the hall are the ones that decide and those in the hall find a way to attend during the week so you have an audience that is predisposed to be satisfied with the existing system.

Electronic voting would probably require an act of the legislature.

carrie alpert
10 years ago

an the act of legislature would take 10 years and endless mounds of red tape, i mean getting a dog license takes winning the lottery —i mean, who closes at 12 on a Friday? at some point you just stop trying to smash your round peg through the square hole and find other outlets

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

Please refer to the thread on the Toan Manager issue at https://mysouthborough.com/2012/04/11/chairperson-says-town-manager-legislation-defeated-by-vocal-minority-scare-tactics/#comment-106942
where I posted this comment:

I concur in full with John Rooney’s remarks. Town Meeting is broken. After a completely superficial and misleading presentation (with so much appreciation repeatedly expressed by Gobron for the “partnership” with the townspeople) on the School Budget, it was passed as presented with barely a dissent. Attendance was pitiful. A representative form of town meeting may stop the School juggernaut. Al Hamilton made a compelling presentation about declining enrolment and increasing costs. No interest at all. The unions and teachers win again.

paul butka
10 years ago

Mr. Rossen,
you must have attended a different meeting than the one i attended. the k-8 school budget presentation i heard made repeated reference to their awareness of declining enrollments and also provided some very specific reactions.
i’m pretty sure i heard that they had already chosen to not fill one open Principal position in anticipation of running a 3 school building system; i’m pretty sure i heard that they had put together a task force to address the enrollment issue a couple of years ago and that a report was, in fact, available; i’m sure that they reported that the septic capacity at Trottier School had been studied in anticipation of potentially moving additional grades into that facility; i distinctly recall them mentioning that they had done some research into the rather substantial costs involved in making a mistake by closing a building too early and then needing to re-claim it soon thereafter; and i’m pretty sure that i heard that they had reduced their teaching staff in anticipation of the upcoming decline in enrollments in 2012-2013; and i’m very sure that i heard that they had managed to keep their budget virtually flat from the prior year which doesn’t strike me as any kind of runaway spending juggernaut.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago
Reply to  paul butka

Mr Butka, I see you seem untroubled by the outrageous salary increases of the previous years and the built in raises for the future. That was all glossed over. How many teachers are being laid off? Other departments have made sacrifices. What I do know is that my property taxes have increased hugely to pay for the schools. What specific savings were mentioned relative to declining enrolments and are these commensurate with that decline? There were no numbers relative to that.
I found the presentation vague and I heard ALL of it..
As the article states the budgets “made it through with little scrutiny last night”

Tim Martel
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

I believe you are both correct. Mr. Butka’s statements about what were discussed in good detail are valid. Mr. Rossen’s statement about the salary increases is also valid.

Mr Hamilton’s presentation included a slide that showed the salaries are rising (and will continue to rise) at an average of 7% each year. This is due to the steps and lanes of the union contract (that award increases based on earning credentials and seniority). Offsetting this somewhat for this year is the union’s agreement to the teachers’ paying for 25% of healthcare costs (up from 20%).

Its s tough issue, and one that every MA town faces. Overall, I thought the K-8 budget for 2013 (at a 0.68% increase) to be satisfactory. Though I’ll add that the union contract does need to be trimmed in order to be sustainable through the next decade. I’m less thrilled with the Algonquin budget overall.

Donna McDaniel
10 years ago

Two topics–Sat. meetings and declining school population.
Many of us would be glad to ask for a Saturday Town Meeting. A committee I was on proposed exactly that about 20 years ago with very little siupport. The argument came from people who don’t want to give up spring Saturdays. Westboro has been doing all-day and evening Saturday meetings for years. Could be time we try again! Either ask Selectmen to put it on the warrant or gather 10 signatures for a petition to put it on the warrant.
As compelling and relevant as Al Hamilton’s report on declining enrollment should be to all of us, he proposed no particular action in the form of a warrant article or budget amendment but offered a very clear “heads up,” presuming the decline does prove to be a real trend. So it’s not that we sat and listened and did nothing–there was nothing we could do lacking an action already on the warrant and Al is well aware of that. My guess is that he chose to provide us with very thought-provoking information. Now that we know that, let’s see what we want to do about it as the trend continues.

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